LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) —  Thousands of Kaiser Permanente mental health workers launched a five-day strike Monday, accusing the health care company of severe understaffing that forces patients to wait as long as a month for therapy appointments.

About 4,000 clinicians who are members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers began picketing Kaiser Permanente facilities, including the Sunset facility in Hollywood and the Anaheim Medical Center. They say they are on strike because of under-staffing issues “that force patients to wait a month or more for therapy appointments.”

“Access to mental health care is a civil rights issue,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said in a statement. “This strike is a clear message to Kaiser that its mental health clinicians won’t stand by silently while their patients can’t get the care they need.”

Kaiser officials counter, however, that the standoff is centered on money, not staffing.

“The union’s principal demands at the bargaining table have not been about improving care and access, but are about gaining even higher wages and benefits and demanding changes to performance standards that would reduce, not increase, the availability of mental health care for our members,” according to a statement from Kaiser.

Union officials said the week-long job action could shut down or severely limit services for the week at more than 100 clinics across the state.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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