Day 10: Kaiser Permanente Hawai’i Mental Health Strike
No Progress in First Bargaining Session Since Beginning of Strike, No Talks Scheduled This Week, Picketing Continues Today, Sept. 7 on Maui
“Kaiser officials showed once again that they have no interest in providing timely mental health care that meets the needs of patients.” -- Andrea Kumura, licensed clinical social worker
News Release from NUHW, September 7, 2022
HONOLULU — No progress was made in the first bargaining session since Kaiser Permanente’s mental health therapists in Hawai'i went on strike 10 days ago to demand improvements in access to care for their patients.
Kaiser officials held firm to their demands that therapists accept wage freezes and cuts to retirement benefits that Kaiser has not requested from any of its other unionized workers in Hawai’i.
Despite a surging demand for mental health services, Kaiser Permanente employs only 57 mental health care workers to care for its 266,000 members across Hawai’i. As a result, Kaiser patients must routinely endure two-to-three month waits between appointments, which far exceeds clinical standards.
“It was absolutely infuriating,” said Andrea Kumura, a licensed clinical social worker, who serves on her union’s bargaining team. “Kaiser officials showed once again that they have no interest in providing timely mental health care that meets the needs of patients.”
In response to a complaint filed by National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents the striking clinicians, the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) recently downgraded Kaiser’s accreditation status in Hawai’i placing the HMO under “corrective action” due to its violation of national standards for providing access to mental health care. Currently, Kaiser is the only health insurance company under corrective action in Hawai’i.
Kaiser has pledged to the agency that it will increase staffing by 34 clinicians over the next three years. However, the healthcare giant on Tuesday rejected a proposal from clinicians that would have required it to offer bigger hiring bonuses to new applicants if it failed to meet its target in any of the next three years.
“Kaiser’s only mental health strategy is to avoid getting in trouble for understaffing its clinics and making its patients wait far too long for therapy sessions,” Kumura said. “Tuesday’s bargaining session showed that Kaiser only pays lip service to mental health care while doing everything it can to maximize its profits at the expense of its patients.”
Picket Line Information for Today, Sept. 7
8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Kaiser Maui Lani Medical Office, 55 Maui Lani Parkway, Wailuku
Click here for a list of picket times and locations and here for a Fact Sheet about the strike by psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and chemical dependency counselors, who provide care at seven clinics and a call center on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island.
The Hawai’i Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs continues to investigate Kaiser after receiving a 57-page complaint from NUHW last November. The complaint, citing internal Kaiser records, documented that patients were waiting months for initial therapy sessions in clear violation of clinical standards and that only 28 percent of Kaiser’s out-of-network mental health providers were actually accepting new Kaiser patients.
Rather than challenge the complaint’s findings, Kaiser issued a 7-page written response last December deflecting responsibility for its violations by claiming it’s hamstrung by a shortage of behavioral health care clinicians in Hawai’i. 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 Hawaii has decreased since November this year from 51 to 48, and many clinicians report that their schedules are now completely booked well into October.
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Aug 29, 2022: Mental Health Workers Strike Kaiser Beginning Monday