Brief Description: Kaiser Permanente is an integrated managed care consortium, based in Oakland CA, where it employs 40,000 people. Kaiser has framed mental health around its “Find Your Words” campaign, which was launched to fight stigma and encourage conversations about mental health. As of the end of 2017, ~200 Kaiser employees have been trained through the MHFA@Work 4-hour program, and Kaiser recently made a commitment to train 4,000-6,000 additional Health Plan employees as first aiders.
A leader in mental health and wellness
Kaiser’s rationale behind investing in mental health, specifically in Mental Health First Aid, was driven by a variety of factors, including the desire to reduce stigma around mental health, encourage candid conversations about mental health challenges, and increase the recognition of colleagues in need of mental health support. The partnership between Kaiser and the National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH) was initiated by Kaiser’s Care Management Institute, which was interested in training its frontline care delivery staff in MHFA. Jennifer Christian-Herman, the Executive Director of Healthworks & Product Innovation at Kaiser, was trained as part of this effort. After taking the course, Christian-Herman was convinced that MHFA would be valuable for both her colleagues and Kaiser’s employer groups. Christian-Herman explained, “We believed it was important for Kaiser employees to be trained in MHFA because of the potential impact it could have through their interactions with colleagues, employers, and people in the community.”
According to Christian-Herman, Kaiser was initially considering other mental health training options similar to MHFA, but “the flexibility of working with NCBH to customize MHFA for Kaiser best fulfilled our needs.” Rachael Gass, Executive Consultant in Strategic Customer Management at Kaiser, expressed, “MHFA is a great way for our staff to be educated, reduce stigma, and build comfort with talking about mental health in day-to-day life.” Gass also thought the program would have relevance to the employer groups that Kaiser provides services to. Gass emphasized, “MHFA fits naturally in the portfolio of products we offer to employers for emotional wellbeing.” She continued, “This is the type of program we want to offer employers as a resource because it focuses on upstream emotional wellbeing and we felt there was a gap in this area.”
Results of MHFA
When implementing the training with its own employees, Kaiser decided not to mandate MHFA, but to strongly encourage employee participation in the program. As a result of the initial partnership, Kaiser has trained over 200 employees as of 2017, including ~100 employees on the Strategic Customer Engagement team, ~60 employees on the Health Plan Leadership team, and ~50 employees in Marketing and Management.
Beyond numbers trained, MHFA has brought value to the lives of individual employees as well. Gass highlighted that a key result of the training was “learning the common vocabulary, establishing mental health as a priority, and communicating that we are all here to take care of each other.” Anecdotally, Christian-Herman shared the story of a senior leader who was confronted with a suicidal employee in the week following the training. “Prior to the training, he would’ve never thought that suicide was something the employee was considering. However, after the training he asked the questions he previously never thought to ask, discovered the person was suicidal, and took the appropriate steps.”
Future direction of MHFA
Arthur Southam, the Executive Vice President of Health Plan Operations at Kaiser, was trained as part of the initial employee group, and proposed to his leadership team that they train ~80% of their team (4,000-6,000 employees) in MHFA. David Livingston, Executive Director of Sales and Account Management at Kaiser, mentioned that Southam was intrigued by “the potential impact MHFA could have in communities that Kaiser employees work and live in.” In addition, Livingston emphasized that Kaiser is aligning with MHFA on customized curriculum design, capacity for demand, logistical processes, and additional resources. Kaiser holds internal meetings on a regular basis to discuss planning for this effort.