Many Kaiser Permanente patients scrambled to fill their prescriptions over the weekend as more than 1,400 Kaiser pharmacists threatened to go on strike because of a labor dispute.
But continuing negotiations pushed off a Monday strike. It was not immediately clear whether pharmacists still plan to strike if an agreement is reached later this week.
Kaiser Permanente released a statement Monday morning: "Kaiser Permanente is pleased to announce that the Guild for Professional Pharmacists has cancelled a work stoppage that was to have begun today. We remain in contract negotiations with the Guild and hope to reach an agreement."
The pharmacists were threatening to strike because after multiple bargaining sessions, Kaiser has not complied with their requests – restoring a pension plan lost years ago, health benefit guarantees for part-time workers and more time to fill patient prescriptions.
"We need time to check for adverse drug reactions and counsel our patients," said Robin Borden, president of the Guild for Professional Pharmacists. "We want to build a relationship with our patients just like they do at any community pharmacy and Kaiser is putting too much emphasis on speed in processing prescriptions and we need to take time and do our job properly."
If an agreement isn’t reached between the hospital and the guild, millions of Kaiser patients in Southern California would have to go elsewhere to get their prescription filled.
"We have not put a deadline on our strike, we will continue to picket until we come to a resolution," Borden said.
With a potential strike looming, long lines were reported at many Kaiser hospitals, including a location in West LA – where one patient said the line went out the door.
"I’ve been a Kaiser member for a long time, almost 50 years, and I’ve had nothing but good experiences with Kaiser," patient and cancer survivor Frances Pittman said. "But it’s just frustrating to go there and find the lines that long."
Kaiser had encouraged patients last week to have their prescriptions filled before Monday in case there is a work stoppage.
A strike would affect Kaiser Permanente pharmacies in Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Kern and San Diego counties. The 24-hour pharmacies will still be open but will only process prescriptions for hospitalized patients, Borden said.
"Ultimately the patients will suffer if a strike ensues and we don’t want that to happen," Borden said.
Kaiser has told patients that their facilities will remain open and their appointments will not be cancelled. Kaiser has also made arrangements with Walgreens, Walmart, Target, CVS, Rite-Aid, Vons and Ralphs so that patients may get their prescriptions filled in the event a strike occurs.
Patients can also register on kp.org if they want to reorder prescriptions by phone or online for mail delivery.
Robert Kovacik and Gadi Schwartz contributed to this report.