By Mina Kim, KQED
Kaiser Permanente is failing to provide timely access to mental health treatment for some of its members according to a recent report by the Department of Managed Health Care.
The report says Kaiser's mental health services are deficient in key areas.
State regulators found insufficient staffing at some clinics across the state -- with patients waiting longer than the legal limit of 10 days for appointments. The report also says some patients were being misled due to inaccurate information about Kaiser's mental health services. Regulators also found that at Northern California facilities staff members were not accurately tracking and reporting how long patients had to wait to get initial appointments or follow ups.
Shelly Rouillard, chief deputy director at the department, says the agency will be taking the unusual step of conducting a follow-up survey in six months rather than the normal 18 months.
"These are significant deficiencies, and we're concerned that consumers aren't getting the care that they need when they need it," she said "and particularly when they are in distress."
Kaiser employees affiliated with the National Union of Healthcare Workers are calling the report a vindication of concerns they laid out in 2011. Clement Papazian is a social worker with Kaiser Oakland and a chapter officer for the union that represents more than 2000 clinicians and psychologists. Papazian says delays have been hard on patients.
"Some of them will drop out of care," he described. "Some of them will seek medication only -- or the services that are available to them: group services."
But Kaiser Permanente officials say the problems occurred at a limited number of sites and did not effect the quality of mental health care. Mason Turner is assistant director of regional mental health for Kaiser Permanente Northern California. He says the agency has been working hard to correct problems since it received a draft of the report last August.
"We have hired more staff," he said. "We have provided more appointments for our patients, and we're very committed to correcting these issues and providing the highest quality of care that we possibly can."
Kaiser also issued a complete response to all its members.
The Department of Managed Health Care's enforcement office is now evaluating options for penalties, including fines.