Mental health clinicians’ strike continues | News, Sports, Work

Mental health clinicians at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii clinics statewide are continuing their strike, now in its ninth week. Members of the National Union of Health Care Workers picketed outside the Kaiser Permanente Maui Lani medical office on Wednesday. The clinic is pictured here in a 2020 photo. The Maui News / photo by MATTHEW THAYER

Tuesday marked the 58th day since mental health clinicians at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii clinics went on strike, and the protests — including at the Maui Lani clinic — appear set to drag on, even as state and county leaders have called for an end.

According to the National Health Workers Union, which represents about 60 mental health doctors for Kaiser statewide, including about a dozen on Maui, the bargaining session scheduled for Tuesday has been canceled by Kaiser. The next session is scheduled for the second week of November. The strike began on August 29 with alternating queues outside clinics across the state.

Workers say they are striking because mental health services are being delayed for patients, there are staffing issues and the union has not had a contract since 2018.

Kaiser has denied the claims, including the understaffing, and says there are more employees coming on board and Kaiser wants to add more.

The Maui County Council last week passed a resolution that was sent to Kaiser leaders urging them to negotiate a contract with the union with the same wage increases and benefits as other Kaiser union workers in Hawaii. He also advocated for more staff to increase accessibility for mental health patients.

Hawaii lawmakers earlier this month also sent a letter to Kaiser management asking for a strike resolution as well as better patient care.

Three Maui County legislators signed the letter. They are State Representatives Angus McKelvey and Linda Clark and Senator Rosalyn “Rose” A baker.

As the strike enters its ninth week, Maui psychologist Rachel Kaya said by phone from the Maui Lani Clinic picket line Wednesday that they have been without pay for a long time and “that’s why our strike fund is important.”

She noted that there are support sites on the Internet, including a GoFundMe page for the workers.

“We get some help (financially)” So to speak. “I think it’s difficult for all of us. It’s an expensive place to live.

But she added “We are very committed to this cause.”

Kaya expressed frustration with Kaiser, saying the company did not replace Tuesday’s bargaining session with another and now has to wait weeks.

Kaya said she is fighting for more access for patients and wants Kaiser to hire more workers. She said attracting new workers can’t happen without competitive wages and benefits.

She said currently patients’ medical appointments are still booked, but their appointments are canceled just a few days or less before the scheduled date.

The National Health Workers Union said the recent strike of just over two months by more than 2,000 Kaiser mental health therapists in Northern California is over and that the workers ratified a new contract last week after mediation by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg .

The union said that in Hawaii, Kaiser refuses to agree to many things the company has agreed to in Northern California. Kaiser agreed to much higher salaries for therapists in Northern California than it offered in Hawaii. Kaiser also agreed to keep the pension for new hires in Northern California, but insists on getting rid of the Hawaii pension.

In a statement Wednesday, Kaiser said, “We are glad that we have fixed dates to negotiate as this strike must not continue. We remain committed to reaching a fair and just settlement that is good for our clinicians and patients. While NUHW claims to be fighting for greater access to care, most of the issues the union still has on the table are related to wages and benefits.”

It also added that Kaiser Permanente Hawaii is on a multi-year journey to increase the number of mental health clinicians, and despite mental health workforce shortages locally and nationally, the company has hired 25 clinicians in Hawaii as of early 2021 Mr.

It has also added 11 clinical mental health positions and additional support staff positions to be filled this year and in the years to come, nearly doubling the Integrated Behavioral Health staff by the end of 2025.

As for its patients, Kaiser said it continues to contact any mental health patient whose appointment was affected by the strike to reschedule or offer another option. About half of Kaiser’s behavioral health patients receive their care from community mental health providers not involved in the strike, it said in a statement.

For patients who choose to cancel their appointments or not reschedule, Kaiser will conduct clinical quality reviews to ensure they get the care they need, the company said.

The approximately 60 mental health clinicians represented by NUHW are just part of Kaiser Permanente Hawaii’s mental health team, along with psychiatrists and additional behavioral health staff.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at [email protected]

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