NORTHAMPTON – Local elected officials, community leaders and health care professionals joined clinicians and crisis workers at picket lines throughout Western Massachusetts today, culminating in a major rally outside the Northampton headquarters of Clinical & Support Options. The rally for quality care capped off a three-day strike over what workers characterize as a refusal of managers to recognize the value of the ongoing and emergency mental health services provided at the taxpayer-funded agency.
“The work we do at CSO directly impacts the health and safety of thousands of children and families in the communities we serve,” said Heather Messer, a licensed social worker at the CSO Family Support Unit in Pittsfield. “We need our agency to respect and value that critical work – to ensure our clients receive the best possible care.”
Dozens of front-line mental health workers from each of CSO’s facilities – based in Amherst, Athol, Florence, Greenfield, Northampton, Orange, Pittsfield and Springfield – participated in the work stoppage, which was limited to three days to minimize impact on clients. They were joined by nurses, physicians and other health care professionals, along with a corps of State Representatives and Senators, City Councilors and Town Selectmen who represent many of the hundred-plus communities served by CSO staff.
“This strike has shown that the entire community understands the challenges we face at CSO, and they’re with us 100 percent in the call for change,” said Stephanie Agnew, a Northampton-based Outpatient Clinician. “The outpouring of support for front-line clinicians has been inspirational, and we’re now in an even stronger position to advocate for the quality care our clients deserve.”
Clinicians and crisis workers staged demonstrations outside agency facilities in April to draw attention to near-poverty wages and severe workplace stress at CSO – serious challenges that have spurred high turnover that jeopardizes the continuity of care. Agency managers have rejected all attempts to address these serious challenges in the months since, despite the involvement of a Federal Mediator. In response, clinicians and crisis workers voted by a 90 percent margin to launch a three-day strike in response, minimizing the impact on clients while sending a strong message to CEO Karin Jeffers and her management team.
Barring a significant change of course on the part of agency management, front-line mental health providers say they will meet Tuesday to plan their next steps in the ongoing fight for quality care at Clinical & Support Options.