July 8, 2019

Moving forward on our commitment to mental health

Kaiser Permanente is taking action to improve the patient and provider experience and we’re moving forward as quickly as we can.

As part of their ongoing commitment to transparency and continued communication, Kaiser Permanente leaders in California shared the following message with our statewide mental health professionals on Monday, July 8, 2019. 

Dear mental health care professionals,

We last wrote to you on June 26, 2019, to share our perspective on the agreement we reached with NUHW leaders, which we were asking you to ratify. At the time, we expressed our disappointment that union leadership was advocating for you to reject the agreement and noted that regardless, we would immediately move forward with a number of our key commitments. These included:

  • Addressing staffing and patient access concerns
  • Addressing constraints caused by space limitations
  • Building a pipeline of mental health professionals for Kaiser Permanente and beyond

Again, the challenges we face are also national challenges and require a multitude of solutions, of which we believe the most important is to examine and explore ways to redesign the model of care, a process we hope to do collaboratively with you as proposed in the new labor contract. In the meantime, we’d like to update you on our progress to address those issues that don’t require a new labor contract. 

Hiring, staffing, and patient access

As you know, we have been actively recruiting for additional mental health staff and most recently have added to this effort 300 new positions statewide. Consistent with our commitment previously communicated, we additionally are seeking interim, short-term staffing resources to assist us in meeting demands while we extend this recruitment for permanent positions. While we’re moving forward with additional recruitment, it should be a priority for us to collaborate on our model-of-care redesign effort as a critical component of the resolution to our challenges.

Improving facilities and treatment spaces

We also have shared with you that we are spending more than $700 million on projects to expand and update our mental health care offices, with the goal of increasing care accessibility, convenience, comfort, and privacy. We noted in our last communication that we are accelerating this work to more rapidly expand the number of therapist offices, group rooms, and telepsychiatry seats. 

We proudly announced this past week in Northern California the planned opening of a much-needed new, inpatient combined medical-psychiatric unit at the Fremont Medical Center.  We’ve been working on this new facility since October 2016, awaiting approval from California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. We also announced in Northern California plans to open outpatient mental health centers in San Leandro and Fremont later this year, adding 100 new offices where mental health providers will treat patients. In Southern California we’ve begun work to launch 11 new and updated facilities.

Building a pipeline of future mental health professionals

Hiring alone won’t solve our long-term challenges, which is why we shared that we would be investing in programs that will build a pipeline of mental health professionals.

We’re moving forward with expanding our postgraduate training program across California to better position Kaiser Permanente as a premier mental health learning organization and to make us the place where mental health professionals want to train, work, and enjoy a long career. We’re activating this initiative with a $10 million investment for new fellows in degreed mental health professions. We expect to open enrollment for this expanded program in the next few months. Our ultimate goal is to have approximately 300 individuals in this program statewide. This is a tremendous opportunity that we encourage you to share with new graduates and colleagues across the state.

We are also developing a new graduate degree program modeled after our nurse scholars program in Northern California. For those employees who are planning to attend master’s degree or doctoral programs, this could enable additional education and greater personal and professional growth. 

We remain committed to advancing our mental health services and addressing the challenges you face in your practice as a mental health professional. Recently, union leadership said that we were not doing enough and called out 2 key open issues: staffing, including providing therapists time for follow-up care; and equity in raises and benefits.

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Our staffing plan will address patient backlog and provide therapists with more time to manage workloads and essential follow-up patient care. Importantly, we have also committed to look at this further as a part of our collaborative effort to examine our model of providing care. 

Relative to pay equity and benefits, your bargaining team presented a number of issues related to equity.  As you review the proposed agreement, we think you will see that we addressed many of these in both regions.  

And for Southern California therapists, we understand that the defined contribution program has been an issue. As an organization we’re seeking to move toward more portable benefits. Going forward it will be important that employees who choose to work for multiple organizations have the ability to take certain benefits with them throughout their career. These benefits need to continue to be market-leading. This is the case for the benefits proposed in your contract. For those employees with DC-only retirement benefits, we’re enhancing your maximum employer DC contribution from 7.25% to 9% by increasing the employer match up to 3%. Total potential savings into your DC accounts would be at least 12% if you contribute at least 3% to achieve the match. Presently, approximately 11 Kaiser Permanente labor contracts have defined contribution programs and to be clear, it’s a change we’re making at the senior executive level as well. Last month, we announced that this retirement model will become the standard for all senior executive employees who join Kaiser Permanente beginning January 1, 2021. 

Kaiser Permanente has made a commitment to respond to the challenge of increasing demand for mental health services and we’ve made a commitment to you to improve your professional practice. And yet, we also know that this is the beginning. As we’ve repeatedly said, and as you know, this is not a Kaiser Permanente problem alone, it is a problem our nation and the health care system face.

Our commitment to be a model for our nation in mental health by addressing the challenges in our system is real. It does not come from any external source or activity, it comes from our values and mission — to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. The needs of our members and our communities for mental health services has never been greater.

We look forward to a resolution of the contract, but as we noted in our last communication, we’re moving forward with our commitment to improve mental health for our members and the communities we serve. Equally important is our commitment to you and your engagement with us in this work. We look forward to our owning this work together and working collaboratively on what we can do for mental health at Kaiser Permanente and the nation.