Kaiser mental health workers will hit the picket line for the second time this year

Mental health therapists at Kaiser Permanente clinics across the state will begin an indefinite strike beginning next week.

According to a press release from the National Union of Health Care Workers, NUHW, understaffing has forced patients to wait months for therapy sessions. Mental health clinicians hope a strike will spur the health care provider to address access to care issues.

This is the second strike in Hawai’i this year where clinicians have left their desks and taken to the picket line.

“Clinicians will strike for as long as it takes for Kaiser to address an understaffing crisis that is leaving patients waiting months for therapy sessions,” said Matthew Artz of the National Union of Health Care Workers.

Strikes outside Kaiser facilities will begin at 6 a.m. on Monday, August 29. They will alternate the locations of the picket lines. Kaiser Hilo Clinic therapists will strike September 1 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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“It has never been more difficult for Kaiser’s patients to access mental health care, and Kaiser’s proposals at the bargaining table would make things even worse,” said Darah Wallsten, clinical psychologist at Kaiser’s Hilo Clinic. “The only choice we have at this point is to strike for as long as it takes for Kaiser to meet the needs of our patients and stop being understaffed in our clinics.”

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Kaiser spokeswoman Laura Mott released a statement about mental health clinicians’ plans to strike.

“It is disappointing that the National Union of Health Care Workers has again called on our dedicated and compassionate mental health professionals to walk away from their patients in Hawai’i at a time when the need for mental health care is so critical,” Mott said in an email to Big Island Now. “We continue to focus on delivering high quality care and urge the union to work with us throughout the bargaining process to finalize a new contract.”

Kaiser and the union are currently negotiating a contract. Mott said the healthcare provider continues to negotiate in good faith and is committed to reaching a fair and equitable agreement.

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“We have the greatest respect and gratitude for our mental health professionals, and we are committed to supporting them in their important work,” Mott said. “We take any potential disruption to services very seriously and have plans to ensure our members and patients continue to receive safe, high-quality care.”

Mott said strikes are a negotiation tactic NUHW has used almost every time it has negotiated a contract with Kaiser Permanente, in the last 12 years of its existence.

The Hawaii strike comes as more than 2,000 Northern California therapists enter the third week of an indefinite strike for Kaiser to improve access to mental health care.

According to the release, Kaiser’s 57 psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, medical social workers, nurse case managers and chemical dependency counselors provide services to 266,000 Kaiser members at seven medical facilities and one treatment center. calls to O’ahu, Maui and the Big Island.

In Hawai’i, clinicians joined the NUHW four years ago to advocate for better access to mental health care. However, the NUHW said wait times have only grown longer as frustrated therapists leave faster than Kaiser can hire new ones. As Kaiser, who reported an $8.1 billion profit last year, has bragged to state regulators that he’s bracing for a hiring spree, he’s demanding clinicians agree freezing salaries and eliminating pensions for new hires, which would make it harder for Kaiser to hire new therapists and keep the ones he still has.

“We’re going to strike for our patients,” said Rachel Kaya, a psychologist at Kaiser’s Maui Lani Clinic. “All we ask of Kaiser is to give us the resources to help our patients get better, and all we get from Kaiser are empty words. If Kaiser was serious about growing his mental health workforce, he wouldn’t be singling us out for cuts he’s never asked of any other union in Hawaii.

The NUWH also claimed in its statement that the National Committee for Quality Assurance, NCQA, downgraded Kaiser’s accreditation status in Hawaii to “corrective action” due to its violation of national access standards. to mental health care.

According to Kaiser, this is not the case. In information posted on Kaiser’s website, it is stated that “Kaiser Permanente Hawaii performed well in its recent routine NCQA accreditation survey (completed May 2022) and successfully achieved NCQA accreditation status. full 3 years until May 11, 2025, for all applicable services. ”

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