State lawmakers urge better mental health resources for healthcare workers: Big Island Now
As 50 Kaiser Permanente clinicians who serve more than 260,000 patients across the islands continue an indefinite strike, 15 Hawaii state legislators on Tuesday signed a letter addressing growing challenges facing healthcare providers. specifically related to mental health.
Legislators are encouraging health departments and insurers to take the necessary measures to protect caregivers and therefore improve patient care.
In the letter, dated Oct. 5 and addressed to Greg Adams, president and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan; Dr. Ramin Davidoff, executive medical director of Southern California Permanente Medical Group; and Dr. John Yang, president and chief medical officer of Hawai’i Permanente Medical Group Inc., lawmakers say families across the state are facing historic challenges impacting their mental health, including the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19, climate change and economic uncertainty.
“As a result, our behavioral health care system is under increasing stress,” the letter states. “Our state is taking action — we’ve invested in mental health programs and made culturally appropriate care a priority in our communities. But we can’t do it alone — health plans and insurers need to step up .
The letter says lawmakers have been troubled for years by reports of a mental health crisis compounded by a systemic lack of investment and called out Kaiser for being recently cited by the National Quality Assurance Committee for having violates national standards for prompt access to mental health care and place the health care provider under a corrective action plan.
“According to (the National Committee for Quality Assurance), Kaiser understaffed his mental health services for years, failed to take effective action to correct problems, and allowed problems to escalate during the pandemic,” the letter reads. “Today, Kaiser is the only health plan in Hawai’i that has been subject to corrective action by (the National Quality Assurance Committee).”
Lawmakers say in the letter that needs to change — now.
“Kaiser enrollees deserve to receive medically necessary mental health services,” the letter said. “Timely care is required by federal and state laws. It is also essential to protect the well-being of individual patients, our communities and our State.
Lawmakers applaud striking Kaiser clinicians for standing up for their patients.
“We call on Kaiser Permanente to resolve the strike and uphold the state’s commitment to invest in timely and accessible mental health care,” the letter said. “Finally, we call on state and federal regulators and other public officials to vigorously enforce all laws protecting the rights of patients.”
The letter was signed by State Representative Nicole Lowen of the Big Island as well as Representatives Amy Perruso, Jeanne Kapela, Angus McKelvey, Linda Clark, Dee Morikawa, Dale Kobayashi, Sonny Ganaden and Sam Kong and State Senators Laura Acasio and Lorraine. Inouye of the Big Island as well as the Senses. Rosalyn Baker, Bennette Misalucha, Kurt Fevella and Mike Gabbard.
Kaiser and the National Union of Health Care Workers, which Kaiser clinicians joined four years ago, are currently negotiating a new contract. This is the second time this year that clinicians have left their desks and taken to the picket line in Hawai’i.
The most recent strike in Hawai’i comes as more than 2,000 Northern California therapists pursue their own open-ended strike in a bid to get Kaiser to improve access to mental health care there.