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Mental health workers stage day strike at Allina and Fairview hospitals

Mental health workers at Allina and Fairview hospitals will strike for a day on May 24 to draw attention to safety issues and pay levels they say are driving people out of the profession.

The decision was announced Monday following a vote among the 400 psychiatric associates and mental health specialists from both systems who unionized with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota last fall.

“A lot of people leave because they get hurt. … We’re pushing for increased safety and security measures that reflect the work we’re doing because of the increased risk,” said Christy Beach, senior mental health coordinator at the Unity campus in Fridley of Allina’s Mercy Hospital.

The workers made their announcement outside M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital, which has converted its ambulance bay into a temporary shelter for the growing number of children being brought to the emergency room with behavioral and mental health issues.

The boarding of patients with mental health crises in the emergency room has increased, largely due to the lack of inpatient psychiatric beds as well as outpatient crisis prevention and stabilization programs. Minnesota was one of six states in the 2020 National Mental Health Services Survey that reported a psychiatric inpatient bed occupancy rate greater than 130% at the end of April 2020.

Psychology associates said patients are receiving delayed or inappropriate care due to this overcrowding, which can make them agitated and increase safety risks for their caregivers.

Minnesota Health Systems has offered long-term solutions, including Fairview’s plan to consolidate inpatient mental health services into a 144-bed location at the former Bethesda Acute Long-Term Care Hospital in St. Paul.

A statement from Fairview says care will continue at its inpatient mental health units even if an agreement is not reached by May 24. Despite progress in negotiations, the statement says Fairview is concerned about some of the union’s security proposals that could compromise its own standards of hospital care and patient privacy rights.

“Hospitals across the country are facing levels of demand for mental health care never seen before,” the written statement said. “We will continue to negotiate in good faith with our colleagues to agree a contract that all parties believe is equal and fair.”

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