LONDON, ONT. -- Dr. Josephine Pepe has been an optometrist for 21 years and says the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have hit her practice, and many others, hard.

“It has been devastating, over 95 per cent of optometrists have seen a decrease in revenue of between 75 and 85 per cent.”

But she says  optometrists like herself have been suffering since well before the pandemic.

“The Ontario government has been underfunding optometry for over 30 years and we have been subsidizing eye care for the last 30 years.”

Pepe says optometrists have been subsidizing 50 per cent of the eye exams in Ontario through OHIP, which she says has been costly.

Throw a pandemic into the mix and Pepe is worried that the lack of revenue, and only being able to see half the number of patients due to physical distancing, will kill her practice.

The Ontario Association of Optometrists say she’s not alone.

“We want to work with the government and we want them to come to the table to try to find a reasonable, sustainable solution,” says Dr. Sheldon Salaba, President of the Ontario Association of Optometrists.

“If they aren’t willing to do that, practices are going to fail, their doors are going to close and it’s going to create permanent access issues for patients who are in demand of eye care services.”

But the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care says, "It’s important to note that in the last five years, total fees paid to optometrists have grown by nearly 15 per cent."

The ministry adds, 'We continue to work with the Ontario Association of Optometrists to understand their concerns and address their questions.'

On Friday the OAO responded to the Ministry statement:

"The statement from the Ministry of Health about optometry fees is misleading. The reality is that the Ministry has not increased any optometry fee since 2009. The only thing that has changed is the demand for eye care, largely due to our aging population. We have more optometrists, delivering more services, to more Ontarians. And each one of those optometrists subsidizes that care. The cost is significant at $173 million a year. The system is not sustainable, and it threatens access to patient care."

In the meantime the association has launched a campaign called SaveEyeCare and are urging Ontarian’s to reach out to their MPPs about this issue. They are also asking the Ontario government to return to the discussion table.

An issue that Pepe says could become detrimental to eye care.

“Now is the time, it is at a crisis point now. We can’t wait any longer so they need to come back to the table and make some decisions.”