Fifty mental healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente sites in Hawaii plan to join colleagues in Northern California in an open-ended strike over access to care.
Hawaii workers will strike Aug. 29, according to a news release from the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents the psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and chemical dependency counselors. Two thousand mental health workers in California began a strike Monday.
Workers in both states say insufficient staffing levels and long wait times put patient health and safety in jeopardy. Hawaii mental health clinicians staged a three-day strike over the same concerns in May. The Hawaii chapter of the National Union of Healthcare Workers formed four years ago and has yet to agree on a contract with Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente.
Kaiser Permanente did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The National Committee for Quality Assurance placed Kaiser’s Hawaii plans under “corrective action” in May over delayed access to mental healthcare. In a letter, the organziation wrote that “lack of access to [behavioral healthcare] for Kaiser members poses a potential patient safety risk and that Kaiser’s prior efforts to improve access to [behavioral healthcare] have largely been ineffective.”
Andrea Kumura, a licensed clinical social worker at Kaiser Permanente Waipio Medical Office and a member of the Hawaii bargaining committee, said new patients are waiting months for intake appointments.
“Kaiser likes to say this is due to COVID. It’s not due to COVID. Our department has always been understaffed and patients have always had to wait. It’s gotten more intense during COVID,” Kumura said. “Because we are so understaffed and the wait times are so long for our patients, we basically can’t get them better.”