The following is a letter from a Kaiser member that was sent last week to US Senator Dianne Feinstein’s staffer Katie Gross and cc’d to me. The writer gave me permission to publish it and asked that her name be withheld. It reads…
I have been trying to get urgent mental health treatment at Kaiser Oakland for several months. Not only did I face blatant discrimination because I disclosed a history of depression and anxiety but I was insulted, discouraged and hounded with phone calls after I filed a grievance. I was told several times that Kaiser was “solution focused” and it was suggested that I take a vacation or join a gym. Kaiser called me several times a day for many weeks after my grievance. I thought they were calling me to give me the proper medical care, only to be aggressively asked to commit to not taking this issue any further by the Kaiser representative on the phone.
When calling member services I was told several times that “we know this is wrong and a problem and we agree with you.” I was encouraged by Kaiser employees to speak up for everybody. It was suggested several times that I present directly to the Kaiser offices and demand treatment. When I was finally approved for therapy I was referred to a company called Value Options which provided me with 5 phone numbers of outside providers. One of them called me back to say that Kaiser does not pay fair wages to see their clients and that she was not taking them into her practice. I have put in countless hours making complaints and have been met with disdain, judgement and discrimination. After months of complaining and tenacity I only now finally have what looks like a referral.
What is happening to patients that are suicidal or schizophrenic? Many mental health clients don’t have the will to fight against their illness and a system that denies their relevance or legitimacy. Please help us with this issue!! This needs to be addressed.
Thank you for any time and effort you can give.
It’s been seven months since the Department of Managed Health Care came out with their second report indicting Kaiser mental health services for insufficient care. In that February 2015 report, a panel of mental health professionals concluded that Northern California Kaiser mental health patients were waiting too long for initial or follow up appointments in 22% of the charts they reviewed. No fines have, as of yet, followed this stunning discovery. The DMHC’s first report, with less precise findings, was followed months later by a $4 million fine.
The above letter to Senator Feinstein, combined with recent conversations I’ve had with my colleagues at Kaiser in Santa Rosa, leads me to believe that adding contracted therapists through Value Options has done little if anything to address the problem. Waits between non-urgent appointments are still 4-6 weeks. The initial access process is still chaotic. People in need are still unable to get help. Only the very persistent and skilled are able to survive the front end of the system; the people who are most fragile and least articulate fall by the wayside.
I’ve decided to write a feature length article for our local independent newspaper, the North Bay Bohemian, as a way to raise awareness that change has stalled. I’ve already contacted the DMHC to pursue why no fines have followed their report and why progress toward parity has stalled. I’ll contact the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) to ask why Medicare and Medicaid patients outside Kaiser receive appropriate mental health care, but the standards drop for Kaiser’s [Medicare] Advantage members and Kaiser MediCal (Medicaid) members.
In the meantime, anybody with recent experiences trying to get help for yourself or your family members, please continue to contact Katie Gross and cc me.