State regulators reprimanded Kaiser Permanente for mismanaging its mental health services, making patients wait excessively long periods between appointments and offering members inaccurate information that may have dissuaded them from receiving long-term individual therapy.
The state Department of Managed Health, which regulates Kaiser and other health maintenance organizations, or HMOs, detailed the deficiencies in a report released Monday and referred the matter to the department’s enforcement division.
“The department feels these findings are really serious. Because of that, we are doing the immediate enforcement referral, which is unusual,” said Shelley Rouillard, chief deputy director of the Department of Managed Health Care.
She said department investigators will do a follow-up survey within six months, and could eventually impose a range of penalties and order specific changes.
The report released Monday, which was part of a routine survey of mental and physical health services conducted every three years, confirmed many of the concerns made in an official complaint to the department by the National Union of Healthcare Workers in November 2011.
“We feel very validated by what the regulators have found,” said Clem Papazian, a licensed clinical social worker at Kaiser Oakland, who also serves as a chapter officer with the union.
Papazian blamed inadequate staffing and other systemic problems for making patients wait for appointments beyond the period allowable by state law, which varies but is 10 business days for nonurgent appointments.
“They need to improve their wait times, and they need to staff appropriately to deliver the services they’re mandated to deliver,” he said.
The union, which represents 2,000 Kaiser mental health workers, has been involved in contract negotiations with Kaiser since the employees voted to join the union in 2010. The National Union of Healthcare Workers formally affiliated last month with the California Nurses Association, a powerful union that supported the mental health workers in two one-day Northern California Kaiser strikes last year.
Kaiser acknowledged in a letter to its members dated Monday that some members have had to wait longer than 14 days for their first nonurgent appointment and that wait times and data tracking must improve.
Since the beginning of 2012, Kaiser has increased the number of new appointments in many locations, the letter said. Kaiser officials also said the HMO has updated its educational materials, improved the way it tracks appointments and is working with the National Union of Healthcare Workers on ways to shorten wait times for patients.
Read the Department of Managed Health Care’s report on Kaiser Permanente’s behavioral health services at http://bit.ly/10ex7k7.
For questions and concerns, patients may contact the Department of Managed Health Care’s Help Center at (888) 466-2219 or go to www.dmhc.ca.gov.
Victoria Colliver is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: [email protected]
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