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Complaint seeks to downgrade Kaiser’s accreditation status in Hawai’i

In a complaint filed earlier this month, NUHW requested that Kaiser Permanente’s accreditation status be downgraded to “provisional” in Hawai’i based on the HMO’s failure to meet the mental health staffing levels it agreed to in a Corrective Action Plan.

“Kaiser continues to flout its corrective action plan and to systemically undermine patients’ access to timely and appropriate behavioral health care,” NUHW researcher Fed Seavey wrote in a seven-page complaint to the National Committee for Quality Assurance. “Kaiser’s persistent lack of responsiveness to patient needs and unwillingness to remedy long-standing staffing deficiencies raises serious concerns about its commitment to correcting its behavioral health violations.

Kaiser’s accreditation in Hawai’i has been under “corrective action” since last year when NUHW-represented clinicians filed a complaint with Kaiser’s accreditation agency documenting dangerously long wait times for mental health appointments. Investigators with the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) concluded that the “lack of access to (behavioral health care) for Kaiser members poses a potential patient safety risk” and that “Kaiser’s prior efforts to improve access… have largely been ineffective.”

As part of Kaiser’s Corrective Action Plan, the HMO committed to hiring 44 “Net new internal outpatient therapists positions over a three-year period” beginning last year.

However, workforce data that Kaiser shares with NUHW shows that it’s not only failing to meet its staffing goals, it’s actually lower staffed than it was when Kaiser drafted its Corrective Action Plan.

  • At the end of the fourth quarter of 2022, Kaiser had 20 percent fewer behavioral health clinicians in its internal provider network full-time equivalent providers (FTEs) than required by its Corrective Action Plan (50.8 FTEs).
  • Since then, Kaiser’s internal provider network has declined further to only 39.7 FTEs. As of July 2023, Kaiser’s internal provider network is 34.7 percent lower than the 60.8 FTEs required by the fourth quarter of 2023.
  • Rather than exhibiting even marginal improvements, Kaiser’s hiring/retention performance has worsened since Kaiser initiated its CAP in June 2022. Since then, Kaiser’s internal provider network has declinedfrom 47.8 FTEs to 39.7 FTEs in July 2023.

Kaiser currently staffs less than 40 full-time equivalent mental health therapists despite having more than 260,000 members in Hawai’i. Last August, those therapists started what became the longest mental health strike in U.S. history. The strike lasted 172 days, and forced Kaiser to settle a first-time contract that increased wages and protected pensions for new hires.

“Kaiser’s staffing figures demonstrate the reality we see everyday in our clinics — patients are being forced to wait much too long for therapy,” said Andrea Kumura, LCSW. “It was our work that landed Kaiser in trouble with its accreditation agency, and we are committed to continuing our fight until Kaiser adequately staffs our clinics and provides appropriate mental health care to the people of Hawai’i.”

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