After disaster strikes

November 19, 2018
From wildfires to hurricanes—natural disasters can strike at any time. It's crucial to stop and assess: Do you have a recovery plan?
After disaster strikes

Excerpted from page 46 of the October 2018 edition of AOA Focus.

From wildfires to hurricanes—natural disasters can strike at any time. It's crucial to stop and assess: Do you have a recovery plan?

When four feet of brown silt-laden floodwater crashed her Denham Springs, Louisiana, practice in August 2016, Cyndie Baker, O.D., couldn't instantly imagine a road to recovery. 

Her practice was a total loss. All that remained of the physical practice she had spent more than 30 years developing was a concrete slab, the studs, the roof and two brick walls. She wasn't down long though. 

Today, she is seeing more patients than she ever has—30% more, in fact. But how? 

Readjust: See the silver lining

Mourn your loss but view your disaster, natural or manmade, as an opportunity. Flooding kept Dr. Baker from the office initially, but she was there soon after to survey the damage. She wasn't going to let the destructive and historic flooding in Louisiana wash away her commitment to her patients, her community and a successful optometric career. 

"Good things can come out of bad things if you seize the opportunity for change," says Dr. Baker, who worked with a local doctor of optometry who allowed her staff to dispense glasses and contact lenses to her patients at his office. 

Reimagine your floor plan

Dr. Baker, a past president of the Optometry Association of Louisiana, hired a contractor to reimagine the flow of her office, which was largely the same after 20 years. They considered all the changes she'd thought about over the years but hadn't found the time to make. It's easy to get comfortable with what you have, she adds. 

Better office flow is a patient satisfier, cutting down on patient wait times as doctors and staff move from room to room. 

"When a building needs to be reconstructed, take a step back and look for better ways to utilize the space," Dr. Baker says. "My builder doubled the number of exam lanes, made a new pretest room, added more private office spaces and a new finishing lab. "Overall, we have five new rooms inside the same space," she says. "The practice has grown so much since the flood—all lanes stay full. It has been a pleasant surprise that the practice has survived and is thriving beyond expectations."   

Reassess your technology

Forced to replace her entire office, Dr. Baker and her staff embraced new, patient-pleasing technology. All the technological investments were meant to improve care to patients and enable staff to get the job done. 

"Patients were very happy that our air puff non-contact tonometer went swimming," she says. "We replaced it with a (less invasive) tonometer that most patients prefer. Also, our new visual field tester is faster and more efficient, which makes visual field testing more tolerable. Our new OCT is an upgrade from our previous OCT. It provides much more information. A new digital acuity testing system was another upgrade. All-new computers and phone systems are another big purchase decision." 

She adds, "You do not need to immediately replace everything. A few less critical instruments can be put on the back burner. It takes a team of doctors and staff to put all the pieces back together."   

Review your insurance coverage

Dr. Baker is quick to say that insurance was the most challenging part of her recovery, as she wrangled with companies to make sure her losses were covered as much as possible, including policies for flooding, fire, theft and business interruptions to make sure they provide adequate coverage. 

"Deductibles can be high and deep depreciation can heavily reduce your final payment," Dr. Baker says. "Be sure to have your equipment properly covered. It is good to have a large reserve for a 'rainy day.' To retain staff, they will need full compensation while the office is out of commission." 

Doctors of optometry also may want to review or develop employee policy manuals to make sure they include policies for communications with and compensation of staff during inclement weather and disasters. 

Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief

To help compensate staff while a practice is closed for reconstruction or repairs, some doctors of optometry have turned to Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief (OFDR). A program of Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation, OFDR is optometry's exclusive financial support program that provides immediate assistance to those in need in the wake of natural disasters.

  • The fund has provided $933,100 in support since its inception in 2005.
  • In 2017, Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief for Students, a collaboration between the AOA and the American Optometric Student Association, launched. The student fund awarded $16,650 to 71 students as a result of 2017 disasters.

Please consider a donation to the fund or apply for a grant.

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