Kaiser Permanente Patients Assembled Outside the Health Care

Kaiser Permanente patients assembled outside the health care provider’s Oakland headquarters Wednesday, calling for shorter wait times for mental health appointments and demanding a meeting with the CEO.

The event was attended by officials of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents some Kaiser employees and is in contract negotiations with the company. The union mounted a five-day strike in December.

Among those who spoke were Santa Rosa’s Seong and David Brown, whose daughter Elizabeth committed suicide last year at age 19.

But she struggled with her mental health, and the Browns faced week-long waits for appointments for Elizabeth and spent tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket to get her care.

Kaiser doesn’t have enough clinicians to see patients in a timely manner, and there’s too much of a focus on medication and group therapy, David Brown said.

The Browns and several other individuals, including Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, sent a letter to Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson April 3 requesting a meeting to discuss their experiences with the health care provider’s mental health services.

“We believe that if you take the time to listen and understand how Kaiser failed us and our families, you will be better able to make sure other families don’t have to suffer the pain we’ve endured,” the letter read. “None of us wants our suffering to be in vain.”

The letter requested a response by April 12. Tyson called the Browns on Tuesday and said he would meet with them and followed up by email Wednesday morning, Seong Brown said, but there has not been a date set for a meeting. She was frustrated that Tyson’s response only came after the rally was organized and press releases were sent out.

Kaiser is the country’s largest integrated health system. It has about 12 million patients in the U.S., with about 4 million of them in Northern California.

Its mental health care has received criticism in the past. It was fined $4 million in 2013 by the California Department of Managed Health Care for not giving patients adequate access to mental health treatment. The agency also criticized Kaiser last year for its delays in behavioral health treatment, but the department did not fine Kaiser again.