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Patients frustrated by ongoing feud between government and optometrists

Barrie, Ont. -

Ontario's optometrists and the provincial government aren't seeing eye to eye with an ongoing dispute that has made it difficult for residents, like Mark Strangemore, to get a routine eye exam.

Strangemore was diagnosed with an eye disorder several years ago and is frustrated that he's been unable to see an eye doctor.

"Who is there to help us, the people and the patients, who need the professional help," Strangemore said. "It's slowly progressively getting worse. I do experience some pain in my eyes here and there."

The funding dispute hasn't seen either side return to the bargaining table since August.

"We would like to talk to these optometrists to get a reasonable solution," said parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Health, Robin Martin. "We would like nothing more than to have them come back to the table today."

Optometrists withdrew services covered by OHIP more than a month ago, including eye exams for children and seniors.

The Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO) said it wouldn't budge until the province agreed to cover operating costs.

"We just want the government to publicly commit in writing that when we determine what the exact costs are together to provide these services, they are going to pay these costs," said the president of the OAO, Dr. Sheldon Salaba.

Optometrists say underfunded services have left them paying roughly half the cost out of pocket.

Last Friday, the government gave a one-time payment of $39 million split between Ontario optometrists for services rendered over the past 10 years. This comes after the government's initial offer of an 8.48 per cent pay increase per patient was rejected by the OAO.

"That represents about a dollar per service because we did 34 million services and optometrists in the province subsidized about a billion dollars during that decade to see OHIP patients," Salaba said.

Optometrists said they are offering emergency services, but some patients tell CTV News if they can't get an appointment, they can't determine if it's an emergency.

"For those patients, I feel very sorry that that has happened, it would never have been our intention to do that, and it lies strictly at the behaviour of the government," Salaba said.

At the same time, the province said it's disappointed with both optometrists and the OAO.

"No one should be suffering harm or deterioration of eyesight or suffering in any way because of a lack of an appointment. They have a professional obligation to help those people," Martin said.

Martin added that if anyone is having trouble getting an appointment, to call the College of Optometrists, who can help find an eye doctor who is not a member of the OAO and provides services to those covered by OHIP. Top Stories

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