HONOLULU — A bipartisan, bicameral group of 15 Hawaii legislators is calling on Kaiser Permanente to come to terms with striking mental health professionals and address longstanding issues that have placed the health plan on notice by the country’s primary accrediting body.
About 60 Kaiser psychologists, therapists, social workers and other mental health professionals have been on strike for more than a month, claiming they are unable to adequately treat their patients due to chronic understaffing and over-scheduling.
In a letter to Kaiser Foundation Health Plan chair and CEO Greg Adams, Hawaii Permanente Medical Group president and medical director John Yang and Southern California Permanente Medical Group Ramin Davidoff, the legislators, led by Rep. Amy Perruso, noted that patients are being forced to wait up to 60 days to access initial behavioral health appointments and follow-up care.
The group also noted that the National Committee for Quality Assurance recently cited Kaiser for violating national time access standard for mental health care and placed the organization under a corrective action plan.
“This must change — now,” the legislators wrote. “Kaiser enrollees deserve to receive medically necessary mental health services. Time care is required by state and federal law. It is also essential for protecting the wellbeing of individual patients, our communities and our state.
“We applaud the striking clinicians at Kaiser for standing up for their patients,” they continued. “We call on Kaiser Permanente to resolve the strike and to match the state’s commitment to investing in timely, accessible mental health care. Finally, we call on state and federal regulators, and other public officials to enforce all laws protecting patient rights.
In addition to Perusso, the letter was signed by Reps. Jeanne Kapela, Nicole Lowen, Angus McKelvey, Linda Clark, Dee Morikawa, Dale Kobayashi, Sonny Ganaden and Sam Kong and Sens. Laura Acasio, Lorraine Inouye, Rosalyn Baker, Kurt Fevella, Mike Gabbard and Bennette Misalucha.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Kaiser Permanente said it is continuing to address staffing issues and is working to double its behavioral health personnel by the end of 2025.
Michael Tsai covers local and state politics for Spectrum News Hawaii.