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Looming Week-Long Kaiser Strike May Impact Pharmacy Services, Medical Appointments

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Kaiser Permanente pharmacists are gearing up for a possible week-long strike beginning Monday.

Kaiser and the Guild For Professional Pharmacists were negotiating Sunday ahead of a deadline with the local units representing pharmacists in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, as well as a group of engineers.

The labor dispute between the healthcare giant and pharmacists remains in place over pay, even as Kaiser reached an agreement with 50,000 other union employees on Saturday.

In a statement Sunday, Kaiser Permanente said:

We are very pleased that Kaiser Permanente and the Alliance of Health Care Unions have reached a tentative agreement. In Northern California, the previously announced strike by physical therapists, speech therapists, and occupational therapists to begin Nov. 22 will not occur, as we have reached a tentative agreement with UNAC, the union that represents these employees.

Kaiser Permanente has not been informed of any changes to Pharmacy Guild or Local 39 Operating Engineers strike plans and our contingency plans remain in effect. We are continuing to bargain in good faith with the Guild for Professional Pharmacists and Local 39 Operating Engineers and hope to reach agreements very soon.

Monday's impending strike among the pharmacists and engineers within the health care network could involve thousands of workers. A major concern with the strike has been the impact on patients' ability to acquire their prescription medications.

Kaiser told CBS13 that, should a strike occur, its outpatient pharmacies would be closed from November 15-22. The health care network said other retail pharmacies and mail delivery services would be options during that timeframe. They said:

If a member does not need their refill right away, our outpatient pharmacies will reopen on the morning of Monday, November 22. Our Mail Delivery pharmacy will remain open during the strike. In the event an urgent prescription is needed during the outpatient pharmacy closure, Kaiser Permanente staff will provide members with direction on how to fill their prescription at a retail pharmacy. Hospital pharmacies for inpatient care and critical infusion services will remain in operation. Members should check for more information starting November 15.

In the event patients would need to go to a retail pharmacy to pick up a prescription, Kaiser said they will be charged their regular co-pay.

All of Kaiser's hospitals and emergency rooms will remain operating if the strike does occur, but other services, like lab and radiology, and procedures could be impacted.

The eleventh hour labor talks have forced some appointments to be rescheduled, leaving some patients concerned their lives are on the line.

"Some medical appointments or procedures may be affected, and we will reach out to patients in advance to reschedule if that is needed," Kaiser Permanente said. "We also encourage members to schedule an appointment should they need lab or radiology services during the next week."

Stephen Rank was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer four years ago, and like clockwork, every two weeks, he receives chemotherapy at a Kaiser clinic. The treatments keep the cancer at bay and him alive.

"I was really concerned that if I missed a treatment right now, that that would allow the cancer to start growing again on that left side," he said.

Stephen says even a small interruption in his cancer treatment — like delayed appointments — could cause a setback from which he might never recover.

"I get word that we're going to miss a chemo treatment because of the strike," he said. "That was very unnerving because I know the cancer on the left side of my liver was growing."

Stephen says he's not taking sides in the labor dispute. He says he's fighting the cancer to give himself a fighting chance to see his two children grow up.

"My focus throughout this entire treatment is to be there for them," he said.

The deadline for an agreement between kaiser and the pharmacists guild is set for 3 a.m. Monday. Kaiser is asking its patients to check its website for the latest strike information.

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