Union seeks federal investigation of Kaiser Permanente

July 13th, 2014

From the National Psychologist’s July–August 2014 edition:

A union representing health care workers at Kaiser Permanente — California’s largest provider of health care, including mental health care — has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation into Kaiser’s treatment of mental health patients. 

The National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) contends that Kaiser’s wait times of four to eight weeks and other serious deficiencies in mental health care rival those at the Veterans Administration that led to a national scandal.

Kaiser officials say NUHW has a four-year pattern of making “discredited claims and misleading allegations” as a collective bargaining tactic and is hoping to cash in on the headlines from the VA scandal.

Andris Skuja, Ph.D., a staff psychologist at the Kaiser Oakland Medical Center and a union leader in NUHW’s professional chapter, submitted a summary of the union’s claims to The National Psychologist, relying on 30 years as chief of service, manager, training director and staff psychologist for Kaiser to vouch for the seriousness of the “woefully inadequate patient care” that prompted him to join a group of professional clinicians pressing Kaiser for improvements.

Skuja said the lack of response from Kaiser that led the union on June 5 to request the federal investigation is indicative of problems at the company that clinicians have complained about for at least six years.

He said the union earlier sought relief from California’s HMO regulatory agency, the Department of Managed Health Care, which after an 18-month investigation “affirmed our complaints and levied a record $4 million fine against Kaiser.”

In covering the union’s latest all for an investigation, The Vallejo Times-Herald questioned Kaiser spokesman John Nelson, who said the company delivers excellent mental health care every day and the union’s comparing the system to problems at the VA is off base. “Frankly, it’s disgusting and insulting to everyone who is currently affected and even hurt by the problems facing the VA,” Nelson was quoted.

Skuja said Kaiser’s performance is “strikingly parallel” to allegations at the VA, including “cooking the books” with secret off-the-record wait lists “to make Kaiser’s numbers look better than they really are.”