HONOLULU(KHON2) — The National Union of Healthcare Workers said Kaiser Permanente’s 47 full time mental health providers are expected to strike first thing Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The union said 266,000 have Kaiser Permanente as their medical coverage in Hawaii.

“None of us wanted to do this,” said Kaiser Maui Lani Primary Care Clinic psychologist Rachel Kaya. “We’ve been in contract negotiations for four years. We’ve really tried everything we could do first and found that management is not interested in offering us an incentive to not strike.”

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The strike impacts hundreds of patients. But Kaya said they hope it forces Kaiser to step up.

“We want them to stand up to what they agree when they provide benefits to people,” Kaya explained.

The demand for mental health services skyrocketed since the pandemic. According to Kaya, they’re overwhelmed, and patients aren’t getting adequate care. They want Kaiser to hire more staff and work to keep them.

In a statement, Kaiser Permanente said:

We take any potential disruption to care or services very seriously and are contacting all patients with appointments in this timeframe as a precautionary measure. Although some behavioral health appointments have been rescheduled, we have Psychiatrists and licensed Behavioral Health managers available to care for urgent needs. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience the union’s strike may cause.

We strongly believe that a strike is unwarranted. In the face of a national 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 for our members. In the last 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, increasing convenience and access. We are committed to continuing this essential work.

Carlos, a Kaiser patient from Maui, said he was forced to wait month for treatment. Patients need help as soon as possible.

“I wasn’t able to get off my couch. It hit me real hard,” Carlos explained. “I was down and out. I couldn’t, couldn’t really do anything for four months. I was spiraling out into this person that I didn’t recognize. I’m a happy go lucky person. 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 insane.”

He said getting an appointment was a nightmare. He waited four months to get his first appointment and another two months for a follow up.

“It’s detrimental,” Carlos said. “The hospitals need to stop worrying about profit and start worrying about the people instead that they’re helping.”

The problem isn’t limited to Kaiser according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

In a statement NAMI Hawaii said:
“All health care system are struggling with mental health care provider workforce shortages in our state, not just Kaiser Permanente, especially in our neighbor islands. We also see that mental health providers and other frontline workers are under great stress and need our support. NAMI Hawaii provides free mental health support groups and classes for anyone struggling with their mental health. We are a community that cares for all.”

Click here for more information on NAMI Hawaii programs

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For more information about the Kaiser Permanente strike click here.