Mental Health Care at Kaiser Permanente


With the number of Americans seeking mental health care, also known as behavioral health care, steadily rising, our nation is at risk of not having enough clinicians to meet patients’ needs. Kaiser Permanente is making sure our patients have access to the mental health care they need, when and where they need it, according to Dr. J. Jewel Shim, chief of psychiatry for Kaiser Permanente East Bay in Oakland.

Kaiser Permanente has been on a path to be the best mental health and addiction care program in the nation, Shim said, by offering effective, evidenced-based treatments across the full spectrum of mental health care and using technology and innovation to enhance access to treatment that is convenient and timely for its members. The quality of the care Kaiser Permanente provides has been recognized by the state’s Office of the Patient Advocate and by national quality organizations, she said.

Kaiser Permanente believes that paying attention to the whole person is key in treating mental health problems, Shim said.


What’s new for Kaiser Permanente’s mental health work in Oakland?

Kaiser Permanente recently moved its Addiction Medicine and Recovery Services to a site near the Oakland Medical Center. “Absolutely gorgeous,” Shim said, “with state-of-the-art, vastly improved technology” a block from the hospital. Doctors and therapists at the center provide comprehensive treatment for people with addiction issues. The center offers more offices for therapists, more group therapy rooms for Kaiser Permanente as well as for community organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous, and an on-site medical lab.


What else is Kaiser Permanente doing for mental health in Oakland?

In July, a new psychiatry residency program will start in Oakland, designed to train psychiatrists with a focus on clinical training, leadership, and scholarship. Another psychiatry residency program will also start in San Jose. Both are aimed to help address the increasing statewide and national shortage of psychiatrists.

Kaiser Permanente believes in investing in the community, Shim said. For example, Kaiser Permanente’s award-winning Educational Theatre program includes four different age-specific productions that teach students how to make healthier life choices, including performances about resilience, conflict resolution, and addressing the stigma of mental health. The programs have been developed by physicians, health educators, and theater professionals at Kaiser Permanente in collaboration with community advisory committees of educators, counselors, parents, and students. The productions and workshops are offered free to eligible schools and community groups.

In addition, Kaiser Permanente is supporting a dental program at the Asian Health Services clinic in Oakland where they screen elderly patients for depression. Kaiser Permanente is also supporting the work of community organizations like Beats, Rhymes and Life, a hip-hop group in Oakland that promotes the use of the spoken word and dance to help young people find healthy outlets and express themselves in a fun environment.


What is Kaiser Permanente doing for mental health nationally?

Kaiser Permanente is working to become the leader in providing mental health care for our members and patients and ultimately provide a model for the delivery of mental health care in the community.

Nationally, Kaiser Permanente has a public health campaign called Find Your Words, which aims at de-stigmatizing mental health. The campaign features young people talking about depression through poetry. In Northern California, Kaiser Permanente has also hosted mental health forums in San Francisco and Oakland to connect communities, providers, and funders.


How is Kaiser Permanente improving its delivery of mental health services?

Shim said that Kaiser is diversifying the way patients are seen, especially with the expansion of telehealth. Patients can now see doctors in the traditional way, in the office, or by secure telephone and video appointments. “This gives patients more immediate access and flexibility,” Shim said. “A lot of patients can’t take time off work or making an in-person appointment is not convenient. We want to give them other options. Mental health is just as convenient as the rest of our care,” she added, noting the email and electronic pharmacy system that Kaiser Permanente patients have access to.

Kaiser Permanente has also invested $175 million to expand and improve mental health care offices, to provide environments that offer patients convenience, comfort and privacy.


What is Kaiser Permanente doing to combat the dearth of mental health professionals?

“We are in continual hiring mode,” Shim said. “We are committed to hiring mental health clinicians to meet that need.”

Kaiser Permanente has expanded its therapist staffing in Northern California by 30 percent over the last five years — that’s more than 500 new therapists in California even though there’s a national shortage. To attract and retain the best candidates, Kaiser Permanente is the highest paying employer for mental health workers in the state.


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