For years, Kaiser Permanente, the largest HMO in the Bay Area
, has been criticized by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents mental health care professionals in Kaiser facilities around California, for providing insufficient mental health services for its members. In 2013, the California Department of Managed Health Care vindicated those complaints when it fined the HMO $4 million for "failing to provide mental health treatment in a timely manner," according to the Sacramento Bee
. The DMCH also ordered Kaiser to cease and desist from violating state law, which requires HMOs to provide mental as well as physical health care.
Kaiser was supposed to fix the problems, but in February of this year, the DMCH issued a report slamming the company for continuing to fail to meet the legal standards for mental health care, according to the LA Times
Now NUHW says that Kaiser has fired a psychologist, Dr. Alex Wang, in retaliation for his blowing the whistle on substandard care. Wang was fired April 9, after what the union says was two years of retaliatory treatment against the doctor for seeking "timely appointments for his patients." In 2013, the union says, Wang was disciplined for "political speech" when he wrote a note in a patient's chart asking that the patient wait less than three weeks for an appointment.
"This is like a punch to the face," said Dr. Andris Skuja, a psychologist at Kaiser's Oakland Medical Center, in a statement. "This multi-billion-dollar corporation has pounced on a thoughtful, dedicated therapist because he dared to stand up for patients who needed help." Skuja emphasized the human cost of delayed appointments for mental health patients, saying, "These delays and denials of care can have tragic consequences. Some patients have committed suicide while facing long waits for therapy appointments."
NUHW has filed a "whistleblower complaint" with the Attorney General Kamala Harris.
According to the Courthouse News Service
, Kaiser denies that Wang's firing was retaliatory:
Kaiser said in a statement that Wang's firing was not an act of retaliation.
"We can say unequivocally that we did not retaliate against Dr. Wang or any other mental-health clinician," the company said.
The HMO also said that it cannot discuss Wang's specific personnel action, but a five-step correction process applies to all NUHW-represented clinicians when performance or behavioral issues arise.
NUHW members and Dr. Wang will picket in protest of the firing today at the Kaiser facility at 4141 Geary Street, starting at 12:30 p.m.