The Fight for Mental Health Care at Kaiser Continues

Image credit: Megan Hadley / West Hawaii Today

The California Department of Managed Health Care recently announced it would be examining the medical giant Kaiser Permanente to see if it is providing adequate mental health care. This comes after mental health workers at Kaiser hospitals have complained that patients often have to wait weeks between appointments. This is far too long, especially considering that overdose deaths and suicides have been on the rise, made worse by the pandemic. Mental health workers have also complained that due to understaffing, clinicians often don’t have enough time to properly document visits or connect patients to other needed services.

This is not the first time Kaiser has been accused of failing to provide timely access to behavioral healthcare. They were sued in 2013 for their inadequate mental health services. State records also show previous issues found by state regulators, though clearly the problem has not been solved. The California Department of Managed Health Care “help center received a 20% increase in behavioral health complaints for Kaiser in 2021 compared to 2020,” according to a department spokesperson.

And considering that Covid has made our mental health worse – in fact, the World Health Organization reports that anxiety and depression increased by 25% in just the first year of Covid – this is unacceptable!

But some workers are fighting back. In Hawaii, employees represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers recently went on strike due to overwhelming case loads and poor access to care. In a three day strike, workers took to the streets against wage freezes and cuts to retirement and health benefits.

“This strike is about patient care,” stated Daniel Meier, a psychologist at Kaiser’s Ala Moana Clinic in Honolulu, in a press release. “We’ve hit a crisis point where we’re being forced to tell people with serious mental health conditions that they’ll have to wait months for their next appointment. Kaiser has gotten away for years with underfunding mental healthcare and we’re taking action to put an end to that.”

Meier is right – the only way to change things is by taking action and fighting back!