Rachel Kaya, a Maui psychologist, said it was unusual to see mental health clinics shout, wave signs, ring bells and pound on the sidewalk.
“We’re calm, dear, let me listen to you – it’s very unusual for us,” Maui Now said this morning. “You know it’s an extreme state on the streets for us – but they pushed us to it.”
Kaya, who works at the Kaiser Permanente Maui Lani Clinic, is part of a nationwide strike by Kaiser mental health physicians to highlight the serious shortage of HMO staff in mental health, which leaves Hawaiian patients dangerously long waiting times and poor care.
During the strike outside Maui Lani, the words “Patients before profit”, “Hockey for mental health”, “62,000 patients for 10 therapists”, “4 years, 31 negotiations, 0 contracts” and “Maui deserve better” were highlighted. clinic today. The vehicles honked as the doctors waved and rattled the cow bells.
The three-day strike began at the Honolulu and Kona clinics on Thursday, today it has moved to Maui and another clinic in Honolulu and will end at the Waipahu clinic on Friday.
The demonstration, organized by the National Union of Healthcare Professionals, which represents 58 Hawai’i Kaiser mental health providers, is called the biggest mental health strike in the state of Aloha.
Kaiser Permanente Hawaiʻi, meanwhile, called the strike a negotiating tactic and called the move “unfortunate” and “unjustified.”
The press release apologized for the possible disruption of patients and defended HMO operations, pointing to a nationwide shortage of staff.
“It is particularly disappointing that unions are asking our dedicated and compassionate employees to leave their patients,” Kaiser said in a statement.
However, unions said no patient visits were scheduled during the strike.
Mental health doctors who gathered in Maui said anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions had increased since the pandemic. But it can take patients months to get help.
“If someone called Kaiser today and wanted to make an appointment for the first time, it would be the first appointment in two months,” Kaya said. “Even if you can make an appointment over the phone.”
Sadness over many losses, anxiety and panic over trying to make money in a difficult economy and depression when people see the world around them become worrying, all as a result of the pandemic, doctors on Maui said.
Tami Swonigan, a Kaiser clinical psychologist at O’ahu, who is gathering on the Maui today, said children were fighting.
Sleep disorders, adjustment problems, anxiety and depression from school and other problems occur in young people from primary to secondary school.
“And yet there are no appointments until there is school,” she said.
Although the mental health needs of the pandemic have increased, Kaiser has had problems with patient access and staff shortages in the past, according to Swonigan, Kaya and others.
“I’ve been there for 15 years and it’s been there since I’ve been there,” Swonigan said.
She added that therapists were not given enough support to stay, and Kaiser limited many of the resources needed for the operation.
Kaiser currently employs approximately 50 full-time physicians who provide direct mental health care to 266,000 Kaiser members in Hawaii, a ratio of approximately one mental health clinic to every 5,320 Kaiser members in the state, according to the National Union of Healthcare Workers.
However, Kaiser said in a press release that the shortage of mental health physicians and the growing need for services are nationwide issues – not unique to Kaiser.
“Given the nationwide shortage of mental health physicians and the growing need for mental health services, Kaiser Permanente continues to actively recruit in Hawaii to ensure that care is available to our members,” the report said. “In the last 12 months, we have hired 21 clinicians in the field of behavioral health. We have also significantly expanded our ability to provide virtual care to patients who want it, thus increasing comfort and access. ”
The union said Kaiser reported a net profit of $ 8.1 billion and $ 56.7 billion in cash and investment in 2021. Nevertheless, it rejected proposals to increase staff and improve patient access.
The HMO’s proposal would lead to a wage freeze for more than 60% of its mental health workers, along with cuts in pensions and health benefits, which would make it even more difficult for Kaiser to recruit and retain mental health therapists.
Kaiser and the unions said no progress had been made during the Tuesday meeting and another meeting is scheduled for 31 May.
Finally, Kaiser clinicians on strike today said they hoped the effort would help improve conditions for the people of Maui and Hawai’i.
“We want people to call because they deserve better,” Swonigan said. “And we want to defend them – but we want to empower them to defend themselves.”
She encouraged patients to share their stories on the Kaiser Patient Portal and on the “Kaiser, Don’t Deny” website of the National Union of Healthcare Professionals.