SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Thousands of Kaiser mental health workers walked off the job on Monday, kicking off a statewide strike.

Psychologists, therapists and social workers like Ann Amato are picketing, and plan on doing so for the rest of the week.

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“They pay their executives very well, they are just not choosing to invest in mental health care,” she said.

She says it shows in the waiting room and hallways at Kaiser Permanente that are always packed.

“We’ve been chronically understaffed for a long time and we’re worried about our patients getting the care they need,” she said.

Amato used to be a front-line therapist, but after years of doing that, she started doing group work, because, as she says, the work was exhausting.

“They will have packed schedules and sometimes have people jammed into their lunch hour or see them after hours,” she said.

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She estimates therapists and psychologists work about two hours of overtime a day, and says not having proper staffing hurts the patients. In cases where therapists need to schedule a follow-up within days, they’re forced to schedule an appointment weeks later. The consequences can be devastating.

“We’ve had people fall through the cracks; we’ve had people fall out of treatment because they just can’t be seen,” she said.

Executives with the hospital simply disagree. John Nelson, vice president of government relations with Kaiser Permanente, says they’ve increased therapists by 25 percent in the last three years.

“We have in place the staff needed to meet our patients needs in a timely way and provide them the high-quality care we need,” he said.

But Amato says they haven’t seen those hires, and says the more patients the therapists are given, the less time they have to dedicate to each one.

“Half the time the patient doesn’t get to talk about what they want to talk about,” she said.

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A Kaiser patient told CBS13 she had to schedule her therapy session six months out, because they simply could not fit her in any time sooner.