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Kaiser strike in Hawai’i now in sixth month

In one of the strongest showings of political support for striking mental health therapists in Hawai’i, U.S Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and six of her Senate Colleagues sent a letter to Kaiser CEO Greg Adams recently urging Kaiser to settle a contract with the NUHW members.

“More than ever, health systems with the kind of market penetration Kaiser has in Hawai’i should be working to ensure patients receive the timely, medically-necessary mental health services essential for protecting the wellbeing of our communities,” the lawmakers wrote. “This level of care requires retaining the current skilled workforce and recruiting new talent into the state—not engaging in years-long contract disputes. These workers deserve a fair wage, and patients deserve dependable, quality care.”

In addition to Sen. Hirono, the letter was signed by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Chris Coons (D-DE).

Kaiser therapists have been on strike in Hawai’i since Aug. 29 primarily over severe understaffing that forces patients to wait months for therapy sessions in violation of clinical standards and state law. Last May, the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) downgraded Kaiser’s accreditation status in Hawai’i by placing it under “corrective action” for deficiencies in providing accessible mental health care. The agency concluded that the lack of access to mental health care posed “a potential patient safety risk” and that “Kaiser’s prior efforts to improve access… have largely been ineffective.” Currently, Kaiser is the only health plan in Hawai’i under corrective action.

In a recent letter to Kaiser’s accreditation agency, NUHW documented that Kaiser’s staffing levels had fallen far below what was required under its Corrective Action Plan for the end of last year.

The letter also showed that since May 2022, Kaiser has failed to add any net new therapists to its internal network. As of January, Kaiser employs 20 percent fewer therapists (40.8 FTEs) in its internal network than is required by its Corrective Action Plan (50.8 FTEs).

After fighting off Kaiser’s attempts to freeze their wages and eliminate pensions for new hires, therapists are demanding fair wages that will help Kaiser recruit and retain therapists in Hawai’i. However, the HMO is still insisting on paying its Hawai’i therapists significantly less than their counterparts in California, who are also represented by NUHW.

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