Saturday, August 15, 2009

One Thing That Can Be Said About Kaiser...

When they eff up, they eff up bigtime...

Kaiser: Letter sent was mistake
Over 100,000 get notice on reduced hours

STOCKTON - In a letter from Kaiser Permanente hitting 103,500 mailboxes Friday, the health-care giant announced to all its members in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties that its after-hours clinics would no longer operate around the clock as of Sept. 21.

Around 5:30 p.m. Friday, Kaiser retracted the letter and offered an apology.

In response to an inquiry by The Record that included concerns about the changes expressed by a member, Kaiser issued the following brief statement:

"A letter was sent prematurely to Kaiser Permanente Central Valley members describing plans that are not yet finalized. Plans for changes in after-hours care are still under development and not yet completed. It's important to note that, in the interim, no changes have been made to after-hours care at this time.

"We apologize for the error and for any confusion this has caused. We have taken immediate steps to prepare our staff to respond to questions from members - and we will be communicating with our members once we confirm our final plans. We regret that this unfortunate mailing error occurred."

Translation: "Oops! Our bad..."

The original letter was signed by Dr. Moses Elam, Kaiser's physician in chief for its Central Valley Area. The statement retracting the letter came from Rob Veneski, a Kaiser Northern California media relations representative based in Fresno.

In response to the retraction, Elam - who was reached in South Carolina late Friday - said the letter over his signature "went out a day or two sooner" than it should have, and it included language that required fine tuning. He hoped to have the matter clarified today.

"Member services did get some phone calls. We want to do the right thing for our members, to make sure the letter is worded properly and accurately," Elam said.

Paging Dr. Elam: If the letter just required a wee bit of wordsmithing, that would suggest to me that the basic content of the letter is true and accurate, and KaiPerm patients in Stockton who have after-hours needs would either need to go to Dameron or SJGH, or they would need to commute the hospitals at Manteca, Modesto, or South Sacramento in order to receive the care for which they are paying a good chunk of change.

Letters like these do not get written in the first place if the basic content of the letter is not basically true and accurate to some substantial degree.

Earlier in the day, without knowledge of Kaiser's retraction, Elam's letter caused some high anxiety in at least one Stockton household.

Michelle Sanchez, 29, a self-described stay-at-home mom and longtime Kaiser member with four children ages 1 through 12, pays more than $800 a month for a health insurance policy to cover her family of six.

"I'm overwhelmed. They are cutting their after-hours clinic that they have had for years. When their rates went up, I said, 'Fine, I'll pay it because of the services I'm getting,'" Sanchez said.

"This is the reason we stay with Kaiser," she said, noting her husband's job does not provide health benefits.

When Sanchez called the phone number on the letter to get clarification, it took 45 minutes to get a supervisor who knew anything about its contents, and the advice that person gave her was not what she wanted to hear.

In Stockton, Kaiser members who need after-hours care after Sept. 21 will be referred to Dameron Hospital's emergency department, which Sanchez said would cost her a $100 co-payment (vs. a $20 co-payment for after-hours care) plus 20 percent of the cost of services provided.

"Having to take my kids to emergency and pay 20 percent of the bill, I would go bankrupt," she said.

Diane Vigil, a spokeswoman for Dameron, said the hospital is prepared to handle Kaiser's after-hours patients if Kaiser eventually does cut back its services.

It's nice to know that Dameron is prepared to pull in the slack. But we still have to remember - less than two weeks ago, KaiPerm announced that they were in the black to the tune of $1.1B thus far this year, and north of $650M in this last quarter. Now they are laying off staff AND now they're fixing to cut back AHAC services in areas that are not served by KaiPerm ER-equipped hospitals?

Just exactly when did Kenneth Lay take over as CEO at KaiPerm?

Well, in a situation such as this, one can equitably ask the affected union(s) about what is going on with such a move, right? Well, the author of this article did manage to raise someone from NUHW...

Ten-year Kaiser medical assistant Robert Nevarez, an activist supporter of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, a new union that is working to replace the established SEIU-UHW in Stockton, said employees learned about the proposed cutbacks to the after-hours clinics the same way as members - through Elam's letter.

"We had groups of workers who had no prior notice that this was coming. This is a surprise that is rippling throughout the Central Valley as we speak," Nevarez said Friday afternoon before Kaiser's retraction.

While he did not have numbers of employees who might be affected by the changes, he said those who work overnight in the pharmacy, laboratory, radiology, adult medicine and pediatrics areas could lose hours or jobs.

"It's a drastic, drastic move, and to know we are going to have angry members is a problem," Nevarez said.

...however, true to form, nobody from SEIU was available except for Fresno-based PR flack Emily Litella Rob Veneski. I'm sure Zombie UHW is circulating a petition to ask KaiPerm for its permission to hold an informational picket at some unknown location that only Zombie UHW knows about. This, the Zombies will tell you, is how they serve their membership and "protect our contract."

This whole thing just boils down to being weapons-grade stupidity on the part of KaiPerm's San Joaquin service area management. If they cut down services, they will make their PR flacks and Dr. Elam look like the shady operators that they now appear to be. If they do not cut down services, then KaiPerm in the San Joaquin service area (not to mention KPNC in general) look like a bunch of incompetent boobs.

And, of course, when it comes to the possibility of jobs being cut or otherwise lost, Zombie UHW is nowhere to be seen.

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