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Kaiser Mental Health Strike Enters Day Three With Picket Line Moving To Maui

Above Photo: Kaiser mental health clinicians are pictured here in a strike during May for better mental health care outside Maui Lani clinic in Wailuku. File photo May 2022. Kehaulani Cerizo.

Psychologists, Social Workers, Psychiatric Nurses And Chemical Dependency Counselors, Who Provide Care At Seven Clinics And A Call Center On Oʻahu, Maui And The Hawaiʻi Island Are On Strike.

They Have Joined Striking Healthcare Workers In California.

The mental health strike at Kaiser moves to Maui today as the open-ended event enters Day 3. Clinicians with the National Union of Healthcare Workers will hold a picket today, Aug. 31, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Kaiser Maui Lani Medical Office, located at 55 Maui Lani Parkway in Wailuku.

Across the state, Kaiser Permanente mental health care workers, represented by the NUHW union began the strike Monday with picket lines in Honolulu and other locations on Oʻahu. After today’s Maui picket, the strike line will move to the Hawaiʻi Island on Thursday before returning to Oʻahu during the Labor Day weekend. Kaiser’s mental health care workers in California also have been on strike over the same issues since Aug. 15.

According to the union, Kaiser Permanente employs 57 mental health care workers, including nine on Maui. With 266,000 subscribers across Hawai’i, the NUHW says the ratio is not enough, “resulting in dangerously long wait times that far exceed clinical standards.”

The health care provider issued a statement saying “We take any potential disruption of services very seriously and have plans to ensure our members and patients continue to receive safe, high-quality care.”

According to Kaiser Permanente’s Labor Update website, the health care provider added 11 new Behavioral Health clinical positions to be filled in 2022, and hired 28 clinicians in Hawaiʻi since the start of 2021, eight of whom will be starting work in the next two months.

“The simplistic math of dividing Kaiser Permanente Hawaiʻi’s total membership by the number of NUHW represented staff results in inflated caseload counts that are inaccurate and misleading,” according to the KP Labor Update.

The health care provider laid out reasons they came to this conclusion:

  • The approximately 60 Behavioral Health clinicians represented by NUHW are just one part of Kaiser Permanente Hawaiʻi’s mental health care team, along with 15 psychiatrists and additional behavioral healthcare staff.
  • Not every Kaiser Permanente member seeks mental health services.
  • KPHI continues to hire more clinical staff and are currently recruiting for 14 open positions for psychologists, LCSWs, and LMHP.

The union disagrees saying: “Although Kaiser told state officials in writing that it planned to hire 44 more clinicians, the number of full-time Kaiser workers providing direct mental health therapy in Hawaiʻi has decreased since November this year from 51 to 48, and many clinicians report that their schedules are now completely booked well into October.”

Rachel Kaya, a psychologist and Kaiser’s Maui Lani Medical Office also disputes the health care provider’s argument, saying her next available appointment isn’t until November. “We actually have fewer therapists seeing patients today on Maui than when we went on strike in May over severe understaffing. Kaiser claims that it’s hiring lots of people, but it’s really just trying to backfill the positions of dedicated clinicians who don’t want to work for Kaiser anymore.”

She’s among the list of striking psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and chemical dependency counselors, who provide care at seven clinics and a call center on Oʻahu, Maui and the Hawaiʻi Island.

“Kaiser couldn’t be more hypocritical when it comes to mental health care,” said Sal Rosselli, president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers in a press release issued earlier this week. “When it gets in trouble for violating mental health access standards, it pledges to boost staffing, but then it turns around and demands cuts that will make its clinics more understaffed than ever.”

The striking group argues that despite an $8.1 billion profit last year, mental health clinicians face wage freezes and retirement benefit cuts that they say would make recruitment “more difficult, if not impossible.”

The striking group filed a 57-page complaint last November, citing internal Kaiser records, saying patients were waiting months for initial therapy sessions and that only 28% of Kaiser’s out-of-network mental health providers were actually accepting new Kaiser patients.

The National Committee for Quality Assurance recently downgraded Kaiser’s accreditation status in Hawaiʻi placing the HMO  under “corrective action.”

Still, Kaiser Permanente Hawaiʻi recently made the Forbes Top-10 list of best employers in Hawaiʻi.

In a statement a spokesperson with Kaiser Permanente Hawaiʻi said, “It is disappointing that the National Union of Healthcare Workers has again called on our dedicated and compassionate mental health professionals to walk away from their patients in Hawaiʻi at a time when the need for mental health care is so critical. We continue to focus on providing high-quality care and urge the union to work with us through the bargaining process to finalize a new agreement.”

Kaiser Permanente and the NUHW, which represents approximately 60 mental health professionals in Hawaiʻi, are negotiating an initial contract.

“We continue to bargain in good faith and are committed to reaching a fair and equitable agreement. We have the greatest respect and gratitude for our mental health professionals, and we are dedicated to supporting them in their important work,” according to a Kaiser Permanente Hawaiʻi statement.

“People’s lives are at stake,” said Andrea Kumura, a licensed clinical social worker at Kaiser’s Waipiʻo Medical Office in a release. “Kaiser is making us violate our professional ethics by delivering care that doesn’t meet the needs of our patients, and the proposal that Kaiser has on the table would result in people waiting even longer for care.”

The provider reports that if appointment or service changes are required, they will contact any affected patients.

Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations

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