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Kaiser Permanente Hawaii mental health clinicians authorize a strike

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HONOLULU (KITV4) - After three years of contract negotiations, psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, and chemical dependency counselors at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii has authorized a strike

The 51 clinicians who provide mental health and addiction medicine services to over 260,000 Kaiser members in Hawaii announced the strike authorization the same day their union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, filed a complaint with state regulators calling for an investigation into Kaiser’s apparent violations of state and federal laws, including mental health parity laws.

The 57-page complaint filed on Wednesday with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs cites internal records documenting how Kaiser's understaffing of its mental health clinics and external provider networks “severely delay thousands of enrollees’ access to mental health services and place their health and safety at risk.” The complaint’s findings include:

  • Due to Kaiser’s understaffed clinics, Kaiser members are waiting between six and seven weeks for both initial and return appointments to treat conditions such as depression, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks, and eating disorders. These wait times vastly exceed clinical practice guidelines set by national standard-setting organizations, including the National Committee for Quality Assurance, which accredits Kaiser’s operations in Hawaii.

  • Kaiser’s internal records show that only 28 percent of the out-of-network mental health therapists it contracts with to augment the care provided by its directly-employed clinicians are actually accepting Kaiser members for care.
  • With only five full-time clinicians assigned to Kaiser’s statewide mental health call center, Kaiser members seeking immediate care for mental health conditions are forced to wait on hold for up to 60 minutes before they can speak to a clinician. Members hang up while on hold 20 to 45 percent of the time, records show, and they wait up to four weeks for a call-back because the call center is so understaffed.
  • Kaiser appears to be violating state laws requiring that it conduct performance reviews of its behavioral health services and that it provides members with out-of-network care when it doesn’t have a healthcare provider available or has an insufficient number of providers available. 

“I’m currently carrying a caseload of over 150 active therapy patients,” said Rachel Kaya, a psychologist at Kaiser Permanente Maui Lani clinic. “It would take more than five full-time therapists to provide my patients timely, clinically-appropriate care. The access problem causes repeated, shameful, horrifying violations of my professional code of ethics.”

Kaiser's senior vice president of human resources released a lengthy statement on Wednesday in response to the news. 

Arlene Peasnall says in part... quote "We are still bargaining and are committed to reaching an agreement."

The strike authorization by Kaiser mental health clinicians does not guarantee that a strike will actually take place. The clinicians have not yet submitted a formal strike notice to Kaiser and no strike date has been set. Contract bargaining resumes next week. 




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