Things are looking better where eye care is concerned.
After withholding service for nearly three months, Niagara optometrists are “pausing” their job action and resuming services for residents covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.
FYi doctors in St. Catharines is scheduling appointments for OHIP-covered patients, but is experiencing a high volume of calls.
EyeCare Niagara said it, like most optometrists offices, will see patients as set by its wait list.
The Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO) has agreed to enter formal negotiations with the Ministry of Health, and beginning Tuesday its members started seeing OHIP-covered patients, including people older than 65, those younger than 20 and patients with specific medical conditions.
In September, optometrists began withdrawing services due to lack of funding, with the OAO saying it has not seen a substantial increase from the provincial government in 30 years, forcing optometrists to absorb half the cost of each service.
The ministry said last month the OAO had continued to decline an invitation to resume negotiations.
Outside its initial statement, the association said it has agreed to a media blackout during its negotiations with the provincial government.
As for the process of rescheduling appointments, that will be left to each optometrist office, The Standard was told, with no pre-set format.
For Dr. Marianne Hopkins of Dr. Hopkins & Associates, the first day back was “crazy” but nice, adding she is “happy to be back seeing patients.”
Hopkins said between her offices, one in St. Catharines and another in Niagara-on-the-Lake, about 1,800 appointments were cancelled during the service withdrawal since September.
“We have our patients in a list of order, of both in priority of need and also appointment-wise. So we’re trying to be fair. We’re fortunate that we have four doctors in two locations so we can actually fill the schedule fairly quickly,” she said.
Hopkins said she worked late Monday to reschedule appointments, and have conversations with patients regarding any potential health concerns.
“We’re ready to go. It’s just making those phone calls that takes time.”
Niagara resident Sheila Volchert, whose eye doctor appointments have been cancelled three times this year, welcomes news of the OAO-province negotiations.
Volchert said it’s been two years since she’s seen her optometrist and is unable to get cataract surgery until she is referred to an ophthalmologist. That is just one of the issues seniors have been facing, in addition to glaucoma and eye tests for driver’s licence renewals, she said.
“I’m just one — there’s many of us that are having issues … . Our eyesight is failing,” said Volchert.
“I’m really anxious — all of us are anxious to get with it … (and) make sure that seniors and children are being accommodated.”
St. Catharines MPP Jennie Stevens said the update is a “really, really big win for Niagara seniors and families, parents and children,” adding they will continue to hold the government’s “feet to the fire” as the two sides continue negotiations.
“They’ve been behind closed doors and bargaining in good faith — that’s the way both sides can find a solution that families and children and seniors, especially seniors, don’t have another disruption in their service,” said Stevens.
Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates said, for weeks, stories about Niagara residents in need of eye care were brought to the provincial government, “so it’s about time (Premier Doug) Ford returned to the table and we’re happy to see the OAO restore services.”