(HONOLULU) KHON2 — World Mental Health Day comes as dozens of mental health care workers are on strike.

About 60 Kaiser Permanente mental health care professionals continue to ask Kaiser for increased staffing, and they said negotiations are at a standstill.

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For five days per week since Aug. 29 Kaiser’s mental health professionals have picketed what they say is a lack of mental health care options for their Kaiser patients, whose membership makes up over 260,000 people in Hawaii.

“Right now Kaiser patients have to wait anywhere between two to three months for their initial appointment and another two to three months to get their follow-up appointment to actually start treatment,” licensed clinical social worker Andrea Kumura said. “We believe that four to six months is too long to wait for mental health treatment.”

Kumura added that the need for mental healthcare has been driven up by the pandemic.

“There’s been a huge uptick in the need for mental health services, lots of anxiety and depression that has not resolved,” said Kumura.

Kaiser said that 8% of its members seek mental healthcare and that they’re recruiting for 14 open mental healthcare positions and have hired 25 since 2021 and stated in a statement to KHON2 Monday in part:

“Kaiser Permanente continues to reach out to every mental health patient whose appointment has been affected by the strike to reschedule or offer another option. Approximately half of our behavioral health patients receive their care from mental health community providers who are not involved with the strike. For those patients who choose to cancel their own appointments or choose not to reschedule, we will be conducting clinical quality reviews to ensure they receive the care they need.”

Last week 15 state representatives and senators wrote a letter calling on Kaiser to resolve the strike. Rep. Amy Perruso was among them and said that Hawaii has enough workers to fill the demand.

“I have done and the unionized workers have also done research into this question, and the workforce already exists in Hawaii.,” Rep. Perruso said. “There needs to be adequate incentive provided to bring them into working for Kaiser and then to retain them,”

Legislation could also be in the works according to Rep. Perruso who said:

“I think that Kaiser is just not getting the message, and I don’t know what it’s going to take but we have some steps that we can take as the legislature, as you mentioned, we can pass laws, for example, require that they have the first intake appointment with any patient within 10 days and if they don’t, then they’re in violation of the law. So there are lots of things that we can do as a legislature we don’t like to do those things. We don’t like to micromanage, but if necessary, I think that’s our job. That’s our responsibility.”

Kaiser said it has bargaining dates set, while union members say the negotiations that took place last Thursday did not go well.

If you or someone you know is in need, the state offers free 24/7 services with HawaiiCARES to provide supportive counseling, screening for urgent mental health needs, recommendations for behavioral health assessments and services, as well as crisis intervention.

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They can be reached at 808-832-3100.