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Wednesday, May 18, 2022
Mental Health Workers Strike Kaiser Hawaii Facilities
By News Release @ 6:11 AM :: 1332 Views :: Health Care, Labor, Drugs

Kaiser Permanente therapists are striking today to demand better access for patients waiting months for mental health care

Picket lines will form as early as 6 a.m on Day 1 of three-day statewide strike, the largest mental health strike ever in Hawaii

News Release from National Union of Healthcare Workers, May 12, 2022

Mental health clinicians are fanning out to picket lines outside Kaiser Permanente medical facilities today for the beginning of a three-day strike to demand that the HMO fix its broken mental health system that leaves patients waiting months for appointments and therapists overwhelmed with unmanageable caseloads.

The strike by more than 50 psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, medical social workers, psychiatric nurses and chemical dependency counselors is likely to impact services at seven medical facilities and a call center on Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island. 

The clinicians, represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, will be picketing as follows with rallies at each site scheduled for 11:30 a.m.:

Today, May 18

  • Honolulu: 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center, 3288 Moanalua Road

  • Kona: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Kaiser Kona Medical Office, 74-517 Honokohau St., Kailua Kona

Thursday, May 19

  • Maui: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Kaiser Maui Lani Medical Office, 55 Maui Lani Pkwy., Wailuku

  • Honolulu: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Kaiser Honolulu Medical Office, 1010 Pensacola, Honolulu, HI 96814

Friday, May 20

  • Waipahu: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Kaiser Waipio Medical Office, 94-1480 Moaniani St, Waipahu

No progress was made during a bargaining session on Tuesday, and no sessions have been scheduled while clinicians are on strike. Kaiser, which reported an $8.1 billion net profit in 2021 and $56.7 billion in cash and investments, has rejected proposals to increase staffing and improve patient access. The HMO’s proposal would result in a wage freeze for more than 60 percent of its mental health workforce along with cuts to retirement and health benefits that would make it even harder for Kaiser to recruit and retain mental health therapists. 

“This strike is about patient care,” said Daniel Meier, a psychologist at Kaiser’s Ala Moana Clinic in Honolulu. “We’ve hit a crisis point where we’re being forced to tell people with serious mental health conditions that they’ll have to wait months for their next appointment. Kaiser has gotten away for years with underfunding mental healthcare and we’re taking action to put an end to that.”

Kaiser currently employs approximately 50 full-time equivalent clinicians who provide direct mental health care for Kaiser’s 266,000 members in Hawaii, a ratio of approximately one mental health clinician for every 5,320 Kaiser members in the state.

Kaiser officials have acknowledged to state regulators that the HMO is dramatically understaffing its mental health services, forcing many patients to endure dangerously long waits for care. Yet, despite increasing patient demand in Hawaii and across the country, since the start of the pandemic, Kaiser has refused to make changes at the bargaining table that would help improve access to care even as patients wait months to see a Kaiser therapist.

In November, NUHW filed a 57-page complaint with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. The complaint, utilizing Kaiser’s own records, found that:

  • Due to understaffed clinics, Kaiser members are frequently waiting months for their first therapy session to treat conditions such as depression, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks and eating disorders — wait times that vastly exceed clinical practice guidelines.

  • Only 28 percent of Kaiser’s out-of-network mental health therapists are accepting new Kaiser members for care. Kaiser contracts with these therapists to augment the care provided by its directly employed clinicians.

  • Kaiser’s understaffed statewide mental health call center routinely forces patients to wait on hold for up to an hour before they can speak to a clinician, and stunningly up to four weeks for a return call.

  • Kaiser appears to be violating state laws requiring that it conduct performance reviews of its behavioral health services and that it provide members with out-of-network care when it doesn’t have a healthcare provider available.

Rather than challenge the complaint’s findings, Kaiser issued a 7-page written response last December deflecting responsibility for its violations claiming that it’s hamstrung by a shortage of behavioral health care workers in Hawaii. Despite telling state officials it planned to hire 44 more mental health clinicians, the number of full-time Kaiser clinicians providing mental health care in Hawaii has decreased since November from 51 to 47, and many clinicians report that their schedules are now completely booked through July.

“Kaiser has the resources and the responsibility to provide clinically appropriate, evidence-based mental health care, but it hasn’t stepped up to the plate,” Meier said. "We can’t keep telling our patients who are desperate for therapy that we’re booked solid for months. It’s unethical, and it has to stop.” 

  *   *   *   *   *

Demand for mental health services in Hawaii is surging, but Kaiser Permanente fails to add adequate staff or improve access, placing patients at risk

Clinicians schedule statewide strike starting May 18 to force changes at HMO that serves 260,000 Hawaii residents

News Release from National Union of Healthcare Workers, May 12, 2022

 HONOLULU — Kaiser Permanente has a double-standard in Hawaii. The healthcare provider has recently settled labor agreements with staff and made improvements for patients at its medical offices and hospitals across the state, but this isn’t the case for those who work in mental health care — or patients needing mental health services. On May 18, Kaiser’s psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, medical social workers, psychiatric nurses and chemical dependency counselors in Hawaii will go on strike in an effort to force the HMO to both raise standards and better address the growing demand for mental health services. The three-day strike is scheduled to begin Wed., May 18 and last through Fri., May 20 at medical facilities across the state.

Kaiser officials have confirmed to state regulators that the HMO is dramatically understaffing its mental health services, forcing patients to endure dangerously long waits for care. Yet, despite the huge uptick in demand for services, largely due to anxiety and depression caused by isolation and economic pressures linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kaiser has refused to make changes at the bargaining table that would help improve access to care.

“We cannot keep apologizing daily to patients in need and members seeking services, for Kaiser’s lack of available care,” said Tami Swonigan, a psychologist at Kaiser Permanente’s Waipio Medical Office. “Kaiser refuses to take any meaningful steps and the crisis just keeps getting worse.”

Kaiser is infamous for failing to provide adequate mental health care. The HMO has been fined $4 million and forced to accept outside monitoring by state authorities in California for delays and denials of mental health care that Kaiser patients in Hawaii have also endured for many years.

National survey data shows that the rate of anxiety and depression tripled from 2020 to 2021. During the same period, the CDC found that Hawaii went from having among the lowest levels for symptoms of anxiety and depression to ranking in the bottom half of U.S. states.

Still, Kaiser is failing to make adjustments in the services it offers and continues to underfund its mental health care services with Hawaiian residents often being forced to wait months to see a Kaiser therapist. 

In November, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), which represents Kaiser mental health clinicians in Hawaii and California, filed a 57-page complaint with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. The complaint, utilizing Kaiser’s own records, found that:

  • Due to understaffed clinics, Kaiser members are frequently waiting months for their first therapy session to treat conditions such as depression, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks and eating disorders — wait times that vastly exceed clinical practice guidelines.

  • Only 28 percent of Kaiser’s out-of-network mental health therapists are accepting new Kaiser members for care. Kaiser contracts with these therapists to augment the care provided by its directly employed clinicians.

  • Kaiser’s understaffed statewide mental health call center routinely forces patients to wait on hold for up to an hour before they can speak to a clinician, and stunningly up to four weeks for a return call.

  • Kaiser appears to be violating state laws requiring that it conduct performance reviews of its behavioral health services and that it provide members with out-of-network care when it doesn’t have a healthcare provider available.

Rather than challenge the complaint’s findings, Kaiser issued a  7-page written response last December deflecting responsibility for its violations claiming that it’s hamstrung by a shortage of behavioral health care workers in Hawaii. 

Meanwhile, Hawaii’s mental health crisis, a parallel pandemic, is getting worse at Kaiser clinics. Many therapists report that their schedules are now completely booked through July, and patients who phone the Call Center are being put on a waitlist. While Kaiser told state regulators in its December letter that it planned to hire 44 more mental health clinicians, the number of full-time staff has actually decreased from 51 to 47.

“Kaiser executives are making it crystal clear that mental health care does not matter to them,” said Rachel Kaya, a psychologist at Kaiser Permanente Maui Lani clinic. “As a therapist, my caseload is five times what it should be, and my patients can’t get the care they’re paying to receive. The problem isn’t that there are too few mental health clinicians in Hawaii; the problem is that Kaiser doesn’t want to pay to provide the level of mental health care that its members need.”

Kaiser reported an $8.1 billion net profit last year with $56.7 billion in cash and investments. Despite its strong financial footing, Kaiser has rejected proposals by clinicians to increase staffing and improve access to care. The HMO’s most recent offer in contract negotiations would result in a wage freeze for most clinicians with cuts to health and retirement benefits. 

###

The National Union of Healthcare Workers represents more than 16,000 healthcare workers in California and Hawaii, including 58 Kaiser mental health providers who provide treatment to 266,000 Kaiser enrollees at seven medical facilities and a call center on Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island.

SA: Kaiser’s mental health clinicians say they are ready to strike  

HPR: Kaiser mental health providers planning to strike want more staff and support

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