HONOLULU (KHON2) — The National Union of Health Care Workers said Kaiser Permanente’s 47 full-time mental health care providers are scheduled to strike first thing Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The union said 266,000 people had Kaiser Permanente as medical coverage in Hawaii.
“None of us wanted to do this,” said Rachel Kaya, a psychologist at Kaiser Maui Lani Primary Care Clinic. “We have been in contract negotiations for four years. We really tried everything we could do first and found that management was not interested in offering us an incentive not to strike.
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The strike affects hundreds of patients. But Kaya said they hoped it would force Kaiser to step in.
“We want them to stand up to what they agree to when offering benefits to people,” Kaya explained.
Demand for mental health services has skyrocketed since the pandemic. According to Kaya, they are overwhelmed and patients are not receiving adequate care. They want Kaiser to hire more staff and work to keep them.
We take any potential disruption to care or services very seriously and are contacting all patients with appointments within this time frame as a precaution. Although some behavioral health appointments have been rescheduled, we have licensed behavioral health psychiatrists and managers available to meet urgent needs. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience the union strike may cause.
We firmly believe that a strike is unjustified. In the face of a nationwide shortage of mental health clinicians and the growing need for mental health services, Kaiser Permanente continues to actively recruit in Hawaii to ensure care is available to our members. Over the past 12 months, we have hired 21 behavioral health clinical staff. We have also significantly expanded our ability to provide virtual care to patients who want it, improving convenience and access. We are committed to continuing this essential work.
Carlos, a Kaiser patient from Maui, said he was forced to wait a month for treatment. Patients need help as soon as possible.
“I couldn’t get up from my sofa. it hit me really hard,” Carlos explained. “I was down and out. I couldn’t, really couldn’t do anything for four months. I was the spiral towards this person that I did not recognize. I will be happy to be lucky. And it threw me like, I didn’t know what was going on. I had no idea. I thought I was going, like crazy. I thought I was going crazy.
He said getting an appointment was a nightmare. He waited four months to get his first date. And another two months for a follow-up.
“It’s detrimental,” Carlos said. “Hospitals need to stop caring about profit and start caring about people instead of thinking they are helping.”
The problem is not limited to Kaiser according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
In a statement, NAMI Hawaii said:
“All health systems are grappling with labor shortages of mental health care providers in our state, not just Kaiser Permanente, especially in our neighboring islands. We also see that mental health care providers and other frontline workers are under great stress and need our support. NAMI Hawaii offers free mental health support groups and classes for anyone struggling with mental health issues. We are a community that cares about everyone.
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