HONOLULU (KHON2) — The National Union of Healthcare Workers said Kaiser Permanente’s employees which include psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and chemical dependency counselors are ending their 3-day strike on Friday, May 20.

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“Our message to the Insurance Division is simple: ‘Do your job.’ This is a crisis that demands urgent action. The time for lip service is over. We need to know your plan for conducting a thorough investigation into Kaiser, and your timeline for completing it.”

ANDREA KUMURA, A LICENSED CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKER AT KAISER’S WAIPIO CLINIC

According to the union, they will return to work on Saturday, May 21. After picketing outside Kaiser medical facilities on Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island. They also rallied outside the offices of Hawaii’s Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

The contract bargaining is scheduled to resume on May 31.

The union sent a letter to DCCA urging an investigation of a complaint filed by the NUHW in November of 2021. The complaint documented “multiple potential violations of state and federal laws that require Kaiser to have sufficient numbers of clinicians available to ensure timely mental health appointments.”

The complaint utilized internal Kaiser records to find 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 multiple state and federal laws including ones that require Kaiser to have sufficient numbers of clinicians available to ensure timely mental health appointments for its members as well as the second provision of state law that requires Kaiser to provide members with out-of-network care when it doesn’t have a healthcare provider available.

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According to NUHW, Kaiser last year reported an $8.1 billion profit, yet the HMO currently employs approximately 50 full-time equivalent mental health clinicians who provide direct mental health care for Kaiser’s 266,000 members in Hawaii.

It is “a ratio of approximately one mental health clinician for every 5,320 Kaiser members in the state.”

Kaiser Permanente sent out a statement on Tuesday, May 17 stating that the strike was unwarranted. During the pandemic, there was an increase in mental illnesses and depression in both adults and children nationwide. And now more than ever there is a growing need for mental health services.

“It is especially disappointing that the union is asking our dedicated and compassionate employees to walk away from their patients. The need for mental health care has never been greater.”

Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser stated that they hired 21 behavioral health clinical staff and expanded its ability to provide virtual care to patients by increasing convenience and access.

Kaiser Permanente said they will continue to bargain with NUHW until they reach an agreement.