Grappling with staffing shortages, Kaiser’s mental health professionals go on strike

Mental health clinicians are going on strike at Kaiser Permanente facilities and are demanding the company to hire more therapists.
Published: Aug. 28, 2022 at 8:06 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 29, 2022 at 7:43 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Mental health clinicians are going on strike at Kaiser Permanente facilities and are demanding the company to hire more therapists.

Kaiser’s mental health clinics across the state say staffing shortages are keeping them from helping their patients get better.

Andrea Kumura, licensed clinical social worker at Kaiser, said there are treatments that require weekly appointments, but meeting those needs has been tough because there are not enough therapists.

“I’ve sort of like redefined it for myself, that I’m no longer a healer. Instead, I’m a holder of people’s pain because I can’t get them better — simply because I just can’t see them as often as they need to be seen,” Kumura said.

Kumura works at Kaiser’s Waipio clinic, which serves the Leeward side.

She said she is booked through the beginning of November.

“I kind of pray to the end of the month, going, OK, I hope nobody has a crisis, because if they do, I physically do not have anywhere to put them,” said Kumura. “I would have to pray that somebody else cancels, so I can give that appointment to somebody else.”

Rachel Kaya is one of nine Kaiser psychotherapists on Maui.

Her next available appointment isn’t until November.

“We have fewer staff today on Maui to handle these needs than we did even at our last strike in May,” said Kaya.

Kumura and Kaya are of the 60 Kaiser mental health professionals represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

The union said the number of full-time workers providing direct mental health therapy has dropped since November from 51 to 48.

They’re asking Kaiser to make the company a more attractive place to work.

“Every time we’ve gone to the bargaining table, they’ve offered less and less and less,” said Kumura.

Kaiser Permanente released the following statement:

It is disappointing that the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) has again called on our dedicated and compassionate mental health professionals to walk away from their patients in Hawaii at a time when the need for mental health care is so critical. We continue to focus on providing high-quality care and urge the union to work with us through the bargaining process to finalize a new agreement.

Kaiser Permanente and the NUHW, which represents approximately 60 of our mental health professionals in Hawaii, are negotiating an initial contract. We continue to bargain in good faith and are committed to reaching a fair and equitable agreement. We have the greatest respect and gratitude for our mental health professionals, and we are dedicated to supporting them in their important work.

“It isn’t a shortage of mental health professionals,” said Kaya. “It’s a shortage of mental health professionals willing to work for Kaiser.”

The open-ended strike is set to begin 6 a.m. Monday at the Kaiser Honolulu Medical Office.