Tuesday marked the 58th day that doctors from Hawaii’s Kaiser Permanente clinics were on strike and picketing, including that at the Maui Lani clinic, looks like it will drag on, even as state and county leaders have called for an end.
According to the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents about 60 mental health doctors for Kaiser across the state, including about a dozen in Maui, a bargaining session scheduled for Tuesday was canceled by Kaiser. The next session is scheduled for the second week of November. The strike began on August 29 with picketing at clinics alternating across the state.
Workers say they are on strike because mental health services are overdue for patients, there are staff shortages issues, and the union has not had a contract since 2018.
Kaiser has disproved the claims, including the staff shortage and says there are more employees on board and Kaiser is looking to add more.
The Maui County Council last week passed a resolution, which was sent to the 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. It also advocated increased staffing to increase accessibility for patients with mental health problems.
Hawaii lawmakers earlier this month also sent a letter to Kaiser’s leadership calling for a solution to the strike and better care for his patients.
Three Maui County lawmakers signed the letter. They are state representatives Angus McKelvey and Linda Clark and Senator Rosalyn “Roz” Baker.
As the strike enters its ninth week, Maui psychologist Rachel Kaya said on the phone from the Maui Lani Clinic’s picket line on Wednesday that they have been without pay for a long time and “That’s why our strike fund is important.”
He noted that there are Internet support sites, including a GoFundMe page for workers.
“We get a little (financial) help” So said. “I think it’s difficult for all of us. It’s an expensive place to live. ‘
But he added “We are very devoted to this cause.”
Kaya expressed frustration with Kaiser, saying the company did not replace Tuesday’s trading session with another and now they have to wait weeks.
Kaya said she is striving for greater access for patients and wants Kaiser to hire more workers. You said attracting new workers cannot be done without competitive wages and benefits.
He said patients’ medical appointments are currently still on the books, but their appointments are canceled only a few days or less before the scheduled date.
The National Union of Health Care Workers said a recent strike lasting just over two months by more than 2,000 Kaiser mental health therapists in Northern California ended and workers signed a new contract last week after. the mediation of Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.
The union said that in Hawaii Kaiser refuses to accept many things that the company has agreed to in Northern California. Kaiser accepted much higher salaries for therapists in Northern California than those offered in Hawaii. Kaiser has also agreed to keep retirement for new hires in Northern California, but insists on getting rid of retirement in Hawaii.
In a statement Wednesday, Kaiser said: “We are pleased to have set negotiation dates as this strike must not continue. We remain committed to reaching a fair and equitable agreement that is good for our doctors and our patients. Although NUHW claims to fight for greater access to care, most of the issues the union still has on the table are wages and benefits. “
He also added that Kaiser Permanente Hawaii has embarked on a multi-year journey to increase the number of mental health doctors and, despite a shortage of mental health workforce locally and nationally, the company has hired 25 doctors in Hawaii from. early 2021.
It also added 11 mental health clinical positions and additional support staff positions to fill this year and beyond, nearly doubling the integrated behavioral health staff by the end of 2025.
As for his patients, Kaiser said he continues to contact all mental health patients whose appointment was affected by the strike to reschedule or offer another option. About half of Kaiser’s behavioral health patients receive care from community mental health providers who are not involved in the strike, a statement said.
For those patients who choose to cancel their appointments or choose not to reschedule, Kaiser will conduct clinical quality reviews to make sure they are receiving the care they need, the company said.
The approximately 60 mental health doctors represented by NUHW are only part of the Kaiser Permanente Hawaii mental health care team, along with psychiatrists and additional behavioral health care personnel.
* Melissa Tanji can be contacted at [email protected]