June 5, 2019

Setting the record straight on NUHW’s false claims

MYTH: Kaiser Permanente (KP) is failing its California mental health patients.  False.  KP’s Northern and Southern California ratings for behavioral and mental health care are among the highest in the state, according to the California Office of the Patient Advocate’s 2018 Report Card, and we are consistently rated among the top-performing health plans in the United States. 
MYTH: KP has not lived up to its promises to fix understaffing issues. False. We have increased our number of therapists on staff by 30% since 2015 and continue to aggressively hire more — despite a nationwide shortage of mental health care professionals. Over the same time, KP’s overall California membership has grown 23%. 
MYTH: KP is outsourcing to subpar contractors instead of hiring staff. False. KP’s priority is to ensure our members have access to the care they need. The challenge for all health care organizations, not just KP, is to provide high-quality mental health care in a time of rapidly rising demand and a shortage of professionals. KP has worked hard to address this issue, significantly increasing our number of therapists and providing training programs to build the mental health workforce. As needed, we also contract with quality community-based therapists to further ensure our members have access to the care they need.
MYTH: The ratio of therapists to KP members hasn’t changed since 2015. False. Unlike other health systems, our primary care and mental health providers work together to make mental health part of a patient’s total health. So it’s not appropriate to compare ratios with other systems. We are making it possible for members to receive mental health care throughout the organization, including embedding mental health professionals in primary care clinics, emergency departments, community settings, and providing options for patients to receive care by phone and video visits.  
MYTH: KP is denying patients access to mental health care. False. KP is deeply committed to providing quality mental health care for our members. We recognize that mental and physical needs must be addressed as part of a person’s total health. Unfortunately, the union’s leadership will not agree with KP’s proposals to increase the amount of time therapists spend seeing patients and is trying to stop us from contracting with qualified community therapists. In contrast, KP is in the midst of a $700 million effort to expand and enhance mental health care locations; is meeting the standard for first appointments more than 90% of the time in California; and has doubled the number of mental health televisits since 2016.
MYTH: KP forces patients to wait weeks, even months for appointments. False. Each patient is evaluated and treated individually. The type and frequency of mental health care is determined by the patient’s needs, and can include a range of different personalized treatment, including individual assessment and treatment planning, medication management, crisis intervention, evidence-based group programs, intensive outpatient and inpatient services and health education classes. As the union has acknowledged, KP is meeting the regulatory standard for first appointments (which is 10 days for non-urgent) and, for the vast majority of patients, return visits occur within the appropriate time frame as determined by their therapist — more than 84% of the time.
MYTH: KP is proposing significant takeaways in its contract proposals. False. There are no takeaways in KP’s contract proposals. Kaiser Permanente is the highest-paying employer for mental health workers in California, including an excellent benefits package. We are offering guaranteed wage increases that would keep our therapists among the best compensated in their profession. We are also offering lump-sum payments, $5,000 in performance bonuses, $10,000 – $20,000 per year student loan repayment, and many other benefits. Across KP in Northern California, the majority of psychologists each make $138,000 or more and the majority of social workers earn 111,000 or more. In Southern California, the majority of psychologists make $135,000 or more and social workers earn $109,000 or more.