Doctors of optometry, like most Floridians, were preparing to hunker down in anticipation of the fury from Hurricane Irma. It is the second time in as many weeks that a catastrophic storm was taking aim at the United States.
A Category 4 storm ahead of making landfall in southern Florida, Hurricane Irma was expected to bring "extremely dangerous" 150-mph winds and "life-threatening inundation" as early as Sunday morning. Forecasts called for the storm to hook northward, cutting lengthwise along the peninsula. Already, Irma was clocked among the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, the National Hurricane Center says, precipitating evacuation orders and emergency declarations.
Amid such warnings, Floridians experienced gridlock and traffic jams on local highways and at gas pumps, flights were canceled, and residents opted to shelter in place. Like other residents of Florida, doctors of optometry and their staffs were hoping for the best but preparing for the worse.
"It's very scary for everyone," says April Jasper, O.D.
Dr. Jasper closed her practice, Advanced Eyecare Specialists, in West Palm Beach, Florida, in anticipation of Hurricane Irma making landfall.
"We closed yesterday (Thursday) and prepared our office the best we could," Dr. Jasper says.
Before closing, she reached out to patients. Her message: Be safe and don't forget to take your eyewear with you as you evacuate.
"I sent an email Thursday telling patients to take all glasses and contacts with them and had many run in for extra contacts," Dr. Jasper says. "I also emailed and texted all my patients my cell number and told them to call me if they needed anything."
She will ride out the storm at home.
"We were worried about gas and traffic," she says, noting that store shelves were growing bare, hardware and grocery stores were closing and traffic lights were being taken down temporarily.
They also closed early at Retina Macula Specialists in Miami, Diane Shechtman, O.D., says.
"We did close as of Thursday afternoon, to give staff and patients time to be with their families and prepare," says Dr. Shechtman, adding that the practice was closed till further notice. "We do not know how the conditions will be following the storm, so we will have to assess things thereafter. "
Weslie Hamada, O.D., Associate Director, Professional Affairs North America, cut a business trip short to get back to Jacksonville to prepare her home for the monstrous storm in case she had to evacuate. Her company, Johnson & Johnson Vision, closed its offices Friday.
"Employee safety is first and foremost and our company is not taking any chances," Dr. Hamada says. "I live three blocks from the beach and will probably be evacuated tomorrow. I will hunker down at a co-worker's home further inland. Plan B will be getting short-term lodging in Georgia."
In a notice to members, the Florida Optometric Association informed members it was closed.
"Everyone is getting prepared," says Sarah Langley, the association's operations manager. "Lots of places throughout the state have experienced gas shortages and long lines for gasoline. The shelves in a lot of stores are bare. Water has sold out everywhere."
"Our office will be closed on Monday and possibly longer depending on what the local impact is," Langley says. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to those doctors of optometry, staff and their families."
Michelle Levin, O.D, took precautions at her office in Hialeah, Florida, Vision Care and Surgery Associates, to protect the practice as much as they could. They were also working with patients.
"We are taking Hurricane Irma seriously and have prepared more for this hurricane compared to some in the past," Dr. Levin says. "Our IT person asked us to unplug all computers and equipment. We have our computers and all diagnostic equipment all covered up. Our office was closed for patients today (Friday) but phones lines remained open. We had staff at the office until 1 p.m., preparing the office for the storm and taking patients phones calls. We rescheduled our Friday , Saturday and Monday patients. We hope to get back Monday afternoon and get our office back up and running."
Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, including its College of Optometry, has halted classes through Sept. 11. The latest school updates can be found at nova.edu/hurricane/index.html.
Appeal for donations
It was just two weeks ago doctors of optometry were experiencing Hurricane Harvey's wallop, which dropped record rainfalls on southeastern Texas. Doctors there are still assessing the damage. The AOA stands by all of those affected by hurricanes Irma and Harvey, and is reaching out to doctors and students, offering messages of unity and support, while encouraging all members to help our colleagues in need.
Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief, a program of Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation, is optometry's exclusive financial support program that provides immediate assistance to those in need in the wake of natural disasters.
Since AOA President Christopher J. Quinn, O.D., first issued an appeal for donations on Aug. 28, the profession has answered the call. Some 340 individual donors, coupled with substantial contributions from industry partners, have brought total donations to more than $160,000. Already, Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief has received 32 applications for aid, with more anticipated in the days ahead.
Among the corporate donors to the disaster fund are Luxottica Wholesale, Essilor of America, PERC+IVA, Vision West, Inc., and EyeCare Partners.
Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief
To apply for aid or donate to the cause, visit aoafoundation.org/OFDR.
Over three dozen Opportunities in Optometry grants have been awarded since 2021, helping traditionally underrepresented minority groups within the profession apply for optometry school.
In June, the AOA House of Delegates approved changes to the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education that increased the number of members on its board from 11 to 13. The council also announced the passing of the baton to new leadership.
AOA partners with actor, producer, singer and gamer, Jordan Fisher to bring awareness to healthy screen time practices and encourage patients to be seen in person by an AOA doctor of optometry for quality eye care.