Jesse’s Story of the Day

Jesse explains how a young man’s suicide change mental health care for Kaiser


One young man changed the mental health care system at Kasier Permenente after his death last year.

Brennen Smith is best described as young and vibrant, while slowly losing a battle against drug addiction and depression.

He committed suicide after Kaiser pushed his mental appointment two weeks past their fourteen day standard to assist patients.

Smith’s mother, Rachel Smith-Mosel and her ex-husband saw troubling signs with their son, so they called Kaiser Mental Health multiple times trying to get Brennen a doctor.

Unfortunately, their calls went nowhere.

“Grief is a heavy, heavy burden. And grief is exhausting, ” said Mrs. Smith-Mosel.

After the death of her son, Smith’s mother began working for change. She began to question Kasier Mental Health department, worked with legislators and called me to help investigate.

After investigating the company, I found that from April 2013 – March 2015 Kaiser’s Northwest region only reached its fourteen day standard by 43 percent compared to a 90 percent response rate in Northern California.

“If an airbag only deployed 43 percent of the time in a crisis or a car accident, would you be allowed to sell that car? Would I buy that car?,” said Mrs. Smith-Mosel.

Several months later, after Smith’s death, Kasier Permenente placed a plaque of Smith on the mental health care floor at their Northwest headquarters in a private ceremony.

“Brennan has affirmed our collective mission of care urgency,” said CEO and Executive Medical Director Imelda Dacones of Kaiser Permanente Northwest.

Dacones also says the tragedy will bring change to the company worldwide.

The health care company says they reduced the time to get an urgent appointment to one day, has hired fifty-one mental health clinicians in the last year and repeat calls for a sooner appointment, or a family member call, will result in patients being connected directly to a clinician.

His mother thinks the change is good. But Kaisers actions have to be as real as the pain she still feels over Smith’s suicide.

“It’s a step in the right direction. It’s accountability. It’s verbal commitment. It’s a plaque on a wall. My question to them is, is it real. How deep is your commitment?, ” said Mrs. Smith – Mosel

The Northwest division of Kaiser that includes Oregon and some of Southwest Washington, may soon include Seattle.

Kaiser Permanente’s acquisition of Group Health is awaiting government approval.

Kaiser says it is very interested in learning from Group Health’s successful approaches to mental health care.

If you would like to learn more about Brennen Smith’s story, click here.

Kaiser Permanente Statement:

Brennen Smith’s death inspired Kaiser Permanente Northwest to accelerate investments in mental health care to meet an expanding demand for care in this country.

In the last year, we have reduced the time to get an urgent appointment to just one day.

We have also changed the way we listen to requests for care. Significantly, we have changed the way we define a patient request as urgent.  For instance, a repeat call for a sooner appointment, or a family member call, will result in patients being connected directly to a clinician for an urgent appointment and seen within 48 hours. We are currently beating that goal and seeing most of our urgent patients within one day.

We have made several changes to our processes and investments to accomplish this, including hiring 51 mental health clinicians in the last year. 

We look forward to sharing Kaiser Permanente’s best practices and lessons learned around mental health and wellness with our colleagues at Group Health, and we are very interested in learning from Group Health’s successful approaches as well. The mental health care challenges we face as a nation cut cross all boundaries, and to address them, we all will need to work together.

– Herb Ozer, Mental Health Director, Kaiser Permanente Northwest



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