July 18, 2017

Agreement with DMHC on improving mental health care services

On July 18, 2017, the California Department of Managed Health Care and Kaiser Permanente jointly announced a settlement agreement to resolve issues related to Kaiser Permanente’s mental health care. The following statement was issued by Patrick Courneya, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals:

This agreement resolves the prior findings by the Department of Managed Health Care (or DMHC), and shows the path for continued improvement. More importantly, it is an acknowledgment of the significant achievements that Kaiser Permanente has made in our ongoing work to improve mental health care in California.

Over the past several years, we have improved access to care, and we are continuously working to lead and improve not only the way mental health and wellness is provided in America today, but how we measure the outcomes of that treatment to ensure patients are getting better. In addition, we are taking action to reduce the cultural stigma against mental health issues that can discourage people from getting help.

Recruiting highly qualified therapists, psychiatrists and other mental health clinicians is challenging for all health care systems, including Kaiser Permanente, due to a national shortage of these skilled caregivers. In spite of that challenge, we’ve been able to increase the number of highly qualified, caring mental health providers at Kaiser Permanente in California by more than 50 percent over the past five years.

We are expanding and improving the facilities where we provide mental health and wellness care. These investments include adding and updating therapy rooms with advanced technology for videoconferencing and consultations, and adjusting signage to address concerns around stigma. We have also expanded hours of operation at many of our facilities in an effort to make our services more convenient and accessible to patients. We are able to offer more mental health and wellness appointments, and we are working to make it easier for patients to choose or change therapists to find the best fit.

As a result of the work we have done over the past several years to improve and track appointment wait times, Kaiser Permanente now has the most detailed, robust and useful tools for measuring timely access in California. No other health plan in the state can offer anything close

We have also been working on challenges that go far beyond increasing staff and improving access. Our clinical teams of psychiatrists, therapists and other caregivers are innovating new methods to engage patients that can provide tangible measurements of the progress they are making.

Last year, we launched a major public awareness campaign to reduce the stigma often associated with mental health. This effort has involved paid public service announcements, social media promotion and engagement, along with highly visible partnerships with professional athletes, all designed to help remove the stigma around mental health and wellness.

We are extremely grateful for the dedication and expertise that the team at the Department of Managed Health Care demonstrated throughout the work to reach this resolution. We all want the same thing: to improve mental health and wellness for our members. This shared commitment, and a focus on constructive problem-solving, is what has led to this milestone, and will position us to continue making great progress in the future.

There remains more to do to achieve the very best mental health and wellness in California, not just for our patients and members, but for the communities we serve. We are committed to continuing to make progress in this critically needed field.

Read the DMHC press release.