State lawmakers urge better mental health resources for health care workers

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As 50 Kaiser Permanente clinicians who serve more than 260,000 patients throughout the islands continue an open-ended strike, 15 Hawai‘i state legislators on Tuesday signed a letter addressing the increasing challenges faced by health care providers specifically relating to mental health.

The legislators are encouraging health care management and insurers to take the necessary steps to protect health care workers and consequently improve patient care.

Members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers picket Sept. 29 in front of the Kaiser Permanente clinic in Hilo. File photo by Nathan Christophel/BigIslandNow.com

In the letter, dated Oct. 5 and addressed to Greg Adams, chairman and chief executive officer of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan; Dr. Ramin Davidoff, executive medical director of Southern California Permanente Medical Group; and Dr. John Yang, president and medical director of Hawai‘i Permanente Medical Group Inc., the legislators say families throughout the state are facing historic challenges that impact their mental health, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and economic uncertainty.

“As a result, our behavioral health care system is under increasing stress,” the letter reads. “Our state is taking action — we’ve made investments in mental health programs and made culturally competent care a priority in our communities. But we can’t do it alone — health plans and insurers need to step up.”


The letter says the legislators have been troubled for years by reports of a worsening mental health crisis aggravated by systemic lack of investment and called out Kaiser for being recently cited by the National Committee for Quality Assurance for violating national timely access standards for mental health care and placing the health care provider under a corrective action plan.

“According to (the National Committee for Quality Assurance), Kaiser has understaffed its mental health services for years, has failed to take effective measures to correct the problems and has allowed the problems to worsen during the pandemic,” the letter says. “Today, Kaiser is the only health plan in Hawai‘i that’s been placed under corrective action by (the National Committee for Quality Assurance).”

The legislators say in the letter that must change — now.


“Kaiser enrollees deserve to receive medically-necessary mental health services,” the letter says. “Timely care is required by state and federal law. It is also essential for protecting the well-being of individual patients, our communities and our state.”

The legislators applaud the striking clinicians at Kaiser for standing up for their patients.

“We call on Kaiser Permanente to resolve the strike in and to match the state’s commitment to investing in timely, accessible mental health care,” the letter says. “Finally, we call on state and federal regulators and other public officials to vigorously enforce all laws protecting patient rights.”


The letter was signed by state Rep. Nicole Lowen of the Big Island as well as Reps. Amy Perruso, Jeanne Kapela, Angus McKelvey, Linda Clark, Dee Morikawa, Dale Kobayashi, Sonny Ganaden and Sam Kong and state Sens. Laura Acasio and Lorraine Inouye of the Big Island as well as Sens. Rosalyn Baker, Bennette Misalucha, Kurt Fevella and Mike Gabbard.

Kaiser and the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which the Kaiser clinicians joined four years ago, are currently bargaining over a new contract. This is the second time this year that clinicians have left their offices and took to the picket line in Hawai‘i.

The most recent strike in Hawai‘i comes as more than 2,000 therapists in Northern California continue an open-ended strike of their own in an effort to get Kaiser to improve access to mental health care there.

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