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Orange County Supervisors call on Kaiser to reverse cuts

The campaign to make Kaiser Permanente reverse cuts that make it harder for therapists in Southern California to meet the needs of their patients gained momentum in December, as the Orange County Board of Supervisors became the first elected body to officially side with NUHW-represented therapists.

The five-member board voted 4-1 on December 19 to pass a bipartisan resolution opposing cuts to therapists’ “Patient Management Time” and calling on Kaiser to provide therapists in Southern California the same amount of time as their counterparts in Northern California.

“I side with the therapists,” Supervisor Doug Chaffee said during the board’s discussion of the resolution. “It’s the care that’s the key here, behavioral health care. (Kaiser’s) history going back to 2006 of different disciplinary actions speaks for itself.”

Patient Management Time refers to the time therapists have to perform critical patient care duties such as responding to patient emails and voicemails, communicating with social service agencies, tailoring treatment plans, preparing for appointments, and doing required paperwork. Insufficient time to perform these tasks is a leading cause of burnout that results in resignations that further worsen Kaiser’s severe understaffing of its behavioral health services.

In 2022, mental health therapists at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California held a 10-week strike that secured approximately seven hours per week for tasks related to Patient Management Time.

However, in Southern California, Kaiser management, in violation of its contractual obligations, has moved to cut Patient Management Time to as little as only two hours per week for therapists who don’t meet productivity metrics, while capping it at no more than four hours per week throughout the region.

Elected officials have already been declaring their opposition to Kaiser’s initiative that essentially creates an unequal system of care that unfairly disadvantages Kaiser members in Southern California. In July, Congresswoman Katie Porter of Orange County, wrote a letter to top Kaiser executives objecting to the planned cuts. The letter was co-signed by State Senators Josh Newman and Scott Wiener.

Assemblymembers Sharon Quirk-Silva, Cottie Petrie-Norris, and Avelino Valencia and State Senator Dave Min also wrote a letter to Kaiser executives, stating:

We strongly encourage SCPMG to take the lead in improving mental healthcare and consider following the example set by your counterparts in Northern California. Expanding PMT and responding to therapist concerns by increasing staffing would undoubtedly result in improved mental healthcare for KCPMG members. We urge you to carefully consider this approach for the betterment of mental health services in Southern California.

The Orange County resolution was introduced by Supervisors Doug Chaffee and Supervisor Vicente Sacrmiento and backed by one of the board’s Republican members. In addition to calling for equal Patient Management Time between Northern and Southern California, it “encourages” Kaiser to “correct any behavioral health disparity between” the two regions.

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