Press Release: Complaint asserts Kaiser providing substandard mental health assessments

May 14th, 2019

Clinicians charge that Kaiser Permanente is shortchanging mental health patients seeking treatment even as it reports huge profits

Even as its profits soar, Kaiser Permanente is shortchanging patients seeking treatment for mental illness and substance use disorders, according to a 58-page complaint filed Tuesday by the National Union of Healthcare Workers with the California Department of Managed Health Care.

The union, which represents 3,500 Kaiser psychologists, therapists, social workers and psychiatric nurses, asserts that Kaiser is violating state law by sharply reducing the duration of mental health intake appointments for thousands of its patients, increasing the risk that patients won’t get an accurate assessment of their condition or an appropriate treatment plan.

Before the recent change, Kaiser clinicians had 60 minutes to conduct intake appointments for adults and 90 minutes for children and their parents to develop a diagnosis and devise a treatment plan. Therapists conducted these appointments in-person. However, Kaiser recently cut these intake assessments to only about 30 minutes and it now conducts thousands of them by telephone, including for patients with suicidal thoughts or a history of psychosis.

“Short-cut telephone intakes are not the standard of care that Kaiser should be providing our patients,” said Deborah Silverman, a Kaiser social worker. “Shortcut intakes can lead to misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment plans. Our patients deserve top-quality care, not shortcuts or half steps.”

Kaiser has no excuse to reduce services to mental health patients. On Monday, the HMO reported a $3.2 billion net profit during the first quarter of 2019, compared to $1.4 billion in the first quarter of last year. Its operating profit rose from $1.1 billion to $1.5 billion over the same period.

“Kaiser is collecting billions of dollars in premiums from its patients, but is employing a system that makes it harder for them to receive timely, adequate mental health care when they need it the most,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “Kaiser is struggling to meet the demand for mental health services, and must use its billions in profits to hire more clinicians — not reduce the quality of its patient care.”

Kaiser, the largest private provider of mental health care in California, is currently under state-ordered outside monitoring of its mental health services after it was found deficient in three consecutive state surveys and fined $4 million for violating the state’s Mental Health Parity Act.

NUHW is a member-led union that represents 15,000 caregivers, including more than 4,000 mental health clinicians.