Mental health therapists at Kaiser Permanente clinics across the state will begin an open strike starting next week.
According to a press release from the National Union of Health Care Workers, NUHW, staff shortages have forced patients to wait months for therapy sessions. Mental health doctors hope a strike will push health care providers to address access-to-care issues.
This is the second strike in Hawai’i this year where clinicians left their offices and took to the checkout line.
“Clinics will strike long enough to get Kaiser to address a staffing crisis that leaves patients waiting months for therapy sessions,” said Matthew Artz with the National Union of Health Care Workers.
The strikes outside Kaiser facilities will begin at 6 a.m. on Monday, August 29. Therapists at the Kaiser Hilo clinic will go on strike on September 1st from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
“It has never been more difficult for Kaiser patients to access mental health care, and Kaiser’s proposals on the bargaining table would make matters worse,” said Darah Wallsten, a clinical psychologist at the Hilo Clinic of Kaiser. “The only choice we have at this point is to strike for as long as it takes to get Kaiser to meet the needs of our patients and stop understaffing our clinics.”
Kaiser spokeswoman Laura Mott released a statement addressing the mental health clinicians’ plans to strike.
“It is disappointing that the National Health Care Workers Union has once again called on our dedicated and compassionate mental health professionals to walk away from their patients in Hawai’i at a time when the need for mental health care is so critical ,” Mott said in an email to Big Island Now. “We continue to focus on providing high quality care and call on the union to work with us during the negotiation process to finalize a new agreement.”
Kaiser and the union are negotiating a contract. Mott said the health care provider continues to bargain in good faith and is committed to reaching a fair and equitable settlement.
“We have the utmost respect and gratitude for our mental health professionals and are committed to supporting them in their important work,” Mott said. “We take any potential service disruptions very seriously and have plans in place to ensure our members and patients continue to receive safe, high-quality care.”
Mott said strikes are a bargaining tactic NUHW has used nearly every time it has bargained for a contract with Kaiser Permanente over the past 12 years of its existence.
The Hawaii strike comes as more than 2,000 therapists in Northern California enter the third week of an open-ended strike to get Kaiser to improve access to mental health care.
According to the release, Kaiser’s 57 psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, medical social workers, nurse case managers and chemical dependency counselors provide services to 266,000 Kaiser members at seven medical facilities and a call center on O’ahu, Maui and Big Island.
In Hawai’i, clinicians joined NUHW four years ago to advocate for better access to mental health care, however, NUHW said wait times have only increased as frustrated therapists leave faster than they can. hire new Kaiser. As Kaiser, which reported an $8.1 billion profit last year, has boasted to state regulators that it is gearing up for a hiring spree, it is demanding that clinicians agree to freeze wages and eliminate pensions for new hires. making it harder for Kaiser to hire new therapists and keep the ones it still has.
“We’re going on strike for our patients,” said Rachel Kaya, a psychologist at Kaiser’s Maui Lani Clinic. “All we’re asking from Kaiser is to give us the resources to help our patients get better, and all we’re getting from Kaiser is lip service. If Kaiser was serious about growing the mental health workforce, it wouldn’t single us out for cuts it has never asked any other union in Hawaii.
NUWH also claimed in its announcement that the National Committee for Quality Assurance, NCQA, downgraded Kaiser Hawaii’s accreditation status by placing it under “corrective action” for violating national standards for providing access to mental health care .
According to Kaiser, this is not the case. Information published on Kaiser’s website states “Kaiser Permanente Hawaii performed well in its most recent routine NCQA accreditation survey (completed May 2022) and successfully achieved full 3-year NCQA accreditation status by 11 May 2025, for all applicable services.”