Optometry's disaster relief fund can aid in ‘gut-wrenching' disasters
“I want to thank you and the AOA Foundation. Because of having to close due to COVID-19, my office checking account was at an all-time low. The flood made matters worse! Your check is greatly appreciated.”—From a letter dated May 16, 2020, by Carol Novak, O.D.
A doctor of optometry never knows if, or when, disaster might strike.
But, with wildfires raging out west and the National Weather Service predicting an active, above-average Atlantic hurricane season through November, they may find aid and comfort in knowing that Optometry’s Fund for Disaster Relief (OFDR) provides grants of up to $4,000 each to doctors of optometry and students who are victims of disasters.
“I have not been a beneficiary of the OFDR but have read all the applications for funding over the years, and I can tell you there have been some gut-wrenching stories,” says Catherine Amos, O.D., chair of OFDR.
“The optometric family is a small group, relatively speaking, in all of health care,” Dr. Amos adds. “We care for each other and our well-being. We know what happens to an office when we can’t see patients because of flooding, loss of power, equipment damage, etc.”
A program of Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation, the fund has:
- Distributed more than 500 grants to doctors and students, totaling more than $1 million in aid.
- Provided $8,000 in grants to date in 2021, compared to $52,500 in 2020, mostly for damage due to civil unrest.
“2017 was our worst year,” Dr. Amos says. “We awarded 113 grants to doctors totaling $349,500.” Three of the costliest hurricanes in U.S. history—Harvey, Irma and Maria—struck that year.
The same year, the OFDR for Students, a collaboration between the AOA and the American Optometric Student Association (AOSA), was established. A total of $16,650 was awarded to 71 students.
“Many students were affected by the hurricanes in Houston and Puerto Rico and needed assistance replacing their ophthalmic equipment and computers,” Dr. Amos says.
Legacy of helping doctors in distress
The OFDR has been a reliable resource for doctors since 2005.
“This was the year (hurricanes) Katrina, Rita and Wilma affected Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida,” Dr. Amos says. “We awarded 111 payouts of $2,000 each to optometrists that year.”
Two years later, the fund was renamed and became a standing committee of the foundation. A grant application process was developed and disaster was defined.
The purpose of OFDR disaster grants is to provide a small measure of immediate financial assistance to eligible beneficiaries who are victims of disasters. Under the fund, a disaster is defined as a “sudden occurrence, which inflicts widespread, catastrophic damage to a large geographic area and/or, which generally affects a large number of individuals,” whether it is it caused by natural events or by human conduct.
“Our funds are used to send doctors of optometry grant money when they have suffered a loss to their practice or homes from a natural disaster,” Dr. Amos says. “Most of our losses have been hurricane-related but we have had tornadoes, floods and fires.”
How to apply, support the program
Her practice now reopened, Dr. Novak, a former AOSA president, says she appreciated the financial support after heavy rainfall caused 1½ feet of silt-laden floodwaters from a nearby stream to pour into her practice’s basement and damage its content.
“It was wonderful that they were able to help me out at a time of need,” she says.
“There are always doctors and industry supporters who open their hearts and wallets to help doctors of optometry in need,” Dr Amos says.
AOA members report wind and rain damage, but harder to overcome are widespread power outages in the greater New Orleans area—and it could be days to weeks before power is fully restored. Optometry’s Fund for Disaster Relief, created to help doctors of optometry in the wake of Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago, can aid doctors and students.
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