SACRAMENTO -- Thousands of mental health workers for Kaiser Permanente started a five-day strike Monday morning.
The strike is expected to last through Friday and take place at Kaiser medical centers across California.
The National Union of Healthcare Workers says the strike is to demand better staffing for mental health programs at Kaiser hospitals. The union alleges staffing issues result in patients sometimes waiting a month for therapy appointments.
"I work in the emergency department myself. I do the 51/50 evaluations. A lot of times the patients come to me and say, 'I have a great therapist, I just wish I could see them more often,'" clinical social worker Cesar Mardones said. "And I feel like if they are seen on a more routine basis, they wouldn't be coming to the emergency room and they wouldn't be at risk."
Around 4,000 clinicians across the state are expected to strike.
Meanwhile, Kaiser says the strike is unnecessary.
"The union's demands are not about improving care and access, but rather about gaining higher wages and benefits," Kaiser Permanente Northern California Chief Nursing Executive Michelle Gaskill-Hames said.
Kaiser says its hospitals are open and urgent needs will be taken care of. Non-urgent appointments are being rescheduled.
Union representatives say they've been trying to come to an agreement with Kaiser since September, and they hope for a solution soon.