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Mental health workers at Allina and Fairview hospitals will strike for one day May 24 to call attention to safety concerns and pay levels they say are driving people from the profession.

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

"Many people are leaving because they are getting hurt. ... We are pushing for increased security and safety measures that reflect the job we do because of the increased risk," said Christy Beach, a senior mental health coordinator at the Unity campus in Fridley of Allina's Mercy hospital.

The workers made their announcement in front of M Health Fairview Masonic Children's Hospital, which has converted its ambulance bay into a temporary shelter for the rising number of children brought to the ER with behavioral and mental health problems.

Boarding of patients with mental health crises in the ER has been increasing , largely because of 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 which reported an occupancy rate of psychiatric inpatient beds above 130% at the end of April 2020.

Psych associates said patients receive delayed or mismatched care as a result of this overcrowding, which can make them agitated and increase safety risks to their caregivers.

Minnesota health systems have proposed long-term solutions, including Fairview's plan to consolidate inpatient mental health services into a 144-bed location at the former Bethesda long-term acute care hospital in St. Paul.

A Fairview statement said care would continue at its inpatient mental health units even if an agreement isn't reached by May 24. Despite progress in negotiations, the statement said Fairview has concerns about some of the union's safety proposals that could jeopardize its own standards of hospital care and patients' privacy rights.

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