New Report Describes Gross Deficiencies in Kaiser Permanente Mental Health Services

NewsNovember 14, 2011

Survey and interviews uncover systemic failures to provide timely and appropriate care

OAKLAND – A comprehensive new report published by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) describes gross and systemic deficiencies in mental health services at Kaiser Permanente hospitals and clinics throughout California, including willful violations of state laws and regulations, and routine disregard of clinicians’ treatment recommendations by administrators preoccupied with cost savings.

The report, based on a survey of over 300 Kaiser mental health professionals practicing at 57 Kaiser facilities in Northern and Southern California, along with dozens of open-ended interviews with clinicians and patients, includes these findings:

  • Ninety percent (90%) of surveyed clinicians report that there is insufficient staffing at their clinic to provide patients with timely return visits.
  • Patients are frequently forced to wait four weeks or longer for return appointments, even though California state regulations require that they be seen within ten business days. These include patients suffering from major depression, suicidal ideation, and other serious conditions.
  • Kaiser routinely compels clinicians to “speed up” initial patient evaluations, reducing their durations to as little as half of recommended clinical standards, and then miscodes these sessions “in a manner that may result in fraudulent claims to Medicare and other governmental and private purchasers.”
  • Kaiser often funnels patients into group therapy even when their diagnoses call for individual therapy.
  • Kaiser falsifies patient scheduling records to conceal appointment delays from state regulators, through practices such as “shadow” paper records, deliberate miscoding of appointment requests, and deliberately canceling and rescheduling patients’ appointments “while falsely attributing the cancellation to the patient.”

Clinicians interviewed for the report describe an unmistakable pattern of knowing failures and deceptive practices by Kaiser administrators that routinely compromise the health and safety of thousands of patients suffering from emotional pain and distress in order to save the company money. Even though Kaiser has generated over $5.6 billion in profits since the beginning of 2009 and pays its Chief Executive Officer close to $8 million a year, Kaiser management has refused to agree to guarantee its caregivers sufficient staffing to safeguard quality patient care. Through three strikes and nearly twenty months of bargaining, Kaiser caregivers throughout the state have attempted to address these patient care issues with management and have been met with intransigence.

After reviewing the report, the California Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers wrote in a statement, “It appears that there are very serious and clear violations of California law relating to timely access to care and inadequate health care practices at Kaiser that appear to fall short of recommended clinical standards….state and federal authorities should investigate this matter to ensure that mental health clients at Kaiser are receiving timely and appropriate treatment.”

Likewise, a letter from the California Psychological Association affirmed that the organization “supports calls for objective review of the allegations by both federal and state regulators who have the responsibility for enforcing the mental health parity laws and ensuring that the lawful community standard of care is being fully observed.”

View on-camera interviews with patients and clinicians describing Kaiser’s substandard mental health services:

Interview with patient, Bill Hawkins:

Interview with son of patient, Timm Sinclair:

Interview with Psychiatric Social Worker Emily Ryan and Therapist Jim Clifford:

Read the full report here:

See NUHW’s resource page for press and the public: