The Kaiser Permanente strike, with over 75,000 impacted employees, is the largest health care strike in the history of the United States. CNN reported that the affected workers are represented by a coalition of unions across California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington and Oregon.
The strike, which is intended to last four days and involves 40 percent of Kaiser Permanente’s staff, could deeply impact patient care. The reality is that any continuation of medical services that deviates from normal strategic and operational procedures comes with increased risk. In the world of medical malpractice, increased risk is synonymous with an increased incidence of medical malpractice.
Here are some of the key factors that could increase medical malpractice cases during the strike:
Staffing shortages. One of the main concerns of the striking health care workers is also the number one reason why the issues involved in the Kaiser strike can impact medical malpractice.
There is a massive understaffing issue, which the stirring workers claim leads to longer waits and patient service delays. Inadequate staffing can increase the workload on health care professionals, leading to fatigue, stress, and potential errors in patient care. As Vox reported, studies estimate that medical errors contribute to the deaths of between 210,000 and 440,000 patients annually in the United States.
Inexperienced replacement workers. During the strike, Kaiser Permanente stated that their hospitals and emergency departments would remain open and staffed by doctors, managers, and “contingency workers.” These contingency workers may not have the same level of experience and familiarity with the hospital’s systems and protocols as the regular staff, which could potentially increase the risk of medical errors.
As medical malpractice lawyer Nicole Kreugel observed, “Even during a short strike, there is a significant risk undertaken when hospitals institute new procedures to account for a temporary change in personnel and rapidly train new people on existing procedures.”
Disruption of communication and coordination. The strike can disrupt the normal flow of communication and coordination between health care professionals, which is essential for providing safe and effective patient care. This disruption can lead to miscommunication, delays in treatment, and other errors that may harm patients.
Increased workload for non-striking staff. The strike puts additional pressure on the non-striking health care workers who are tasked with providing care for an increased number of patients. This increased workload can lead to fatigue and stress, which are known contributors to medical errors.
Distraction and emotional distress. The strike and the associated picketing and protests can create a distracting and emotionally charged environment for both the striking and non-striking health care workers. This distraction and emotional distress can potentially impact their ability to focus on patient care and make sound clinical decisions.
While the exact impact of the Kaiser Permanente strike on medical malpractice is difficult to predict, it is critically important for both the health care workers and the management to prioritize patient safety and work toward a resolution that addresses the workers’ concerns while ensuring the delivery of high-quality care.
Aron Solomon is an attorney.