Kaiser Mental Health Benefits, but Patients Still Struggle to Get Timely Treatment
Kaiser Permanente says it has made significant improvements to its Kaiser mental health care.
California’s largest managed-care company, with 9 million members, boasts over 1,200 therapists hired since 2016. It also offers improved access to appointments for patients and a broader training program for Kaiser mental healthcare professionals. California’s Department of Managed Health Care reports that Kaiser has met the benchmarks set out in a 2017 settlement agreement, which was reached after two years of negotiations.
Interviews with Kaiser Permanente patients, therapists and industry experts reveal a troubling picture. These superficial gains look great on paper, but don’t translate into better and more accessible care. Kaiser patients are still struggling to get ongoing treatment. Many wait up to two months between sessions.
According to Kaiser therapists, the HMO has found a way to cheat the California regulators’ system to measure progress Spiderman Exercise and not improve care. The model relies on a series of perfunctory intake interviews that are conducted over the phone by call centers. This allows for improved response times for patients who seek an appointment, but fails to provide timely or consistent follow-up care.
“The initial intake does not mean that you are starting treatment. Kirstin Quinn Sigel, a Kaiser Richmond clinic licensed marriage and family therapist, said that it just means that the patient must share their experiences multiple times. It’s not a way of improving kaiser mental healthcare services. It is a way to increase their numbers.”
These allegations are at the heart of a five-day walkout this week that involves thousands of Kaiser mental healthcare professionals. They are expected to picket Monday to demand more time for administrative tasks, higher salaries, and shorter wait times for patient appointments.
Multiple therapists are concerned about Connect 2 Care, a “telehealth” program. Patients with kaiser mental health issues are given the opportunity to make an appointment by calling in and having an intake assessment done over the phone with a professional therapist.
Intake calls last approximately 30 minutes and count towards the state’s timely access regulation. This requires that patients are given an urgent appointment within 48 hours, and a non-urgent appointment no later than 10 days. According to the American Psychological Assn, a standard intake interview usually lasts around an hour. It is conducted in person by a therapist who will continue treatment. These visits usually include a complete medical history, a mental state evaluation, and the creation of a treatment plan.