U.S. natural disasters’ financial toll increasing: OFDR at the ready

August 24, 2022
Optometry’s Fund for Disaster Relief provides immediate assistance to doctors to expedite their ability to provide critical patient care, as well as optometry students suffering property damage, during times of disasters. Learn how to apply for a grant or donate.
Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief

Billion-dollar climate disasters occur more frequently across the U.S. than in years past, meteorologists say, as 2022 surpasses a four-decade average for such catastrophic events at the year’s midpoint.

Through early July, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported at least nine weather or climate-related disasters with losses exceeding $1 billion in the U.S., trending ahead of an annual average of 7.7 events reported since 1980. Even then, the NOAA data came out before a litany of catastrophic weather events in recent weeks, ranging from destructive flash flooding, extensive drought and wildfire conditions, and an Atlantic hurricane season looming.

Described by NOAA’s data is an accelerating pattern of such events, especially over the past five years. Since 2017, the annual average for billion-dollar events skyrocketed to 17.8 with 2020 and 2021 setting records for 22 and 20 events, respectively. Moreover, 2021 marked the seventh consecutive year in which the U.S. experienced 10 or more billion-dollar weather or climate disasters with 2022 now well on its way to number eight.

As the NOAA report details, U.S. weather over the past five years has been historically volatile. Three of the costliest hurricanes in U.S. history—Harvey, Irma and Maria—struck in 2017; sequential record-breaking wildfire seasons, 2017-2021, blazed across Western states; an historic cold wave and winter storm in 2021 became the costliest U.S. winter storm event on record; and numerous instances of flooding and severe weather, including an historic, late-season tornado outbreak and record-breaking derecho in December 2021 have occurred in recent years.

While meteorologists posit these trends reflect increases in American population and material wealth, as well as development in vulnerable, disaster-prone areas, they also warn climate change is “supercharging” the increasing frequency and intensity of such events.

“Given all these compounding hazard risks, there is an increased need to focus on where we build, how we build, and investing in infrastructure updates that are designed for a 21st century climate,” notes an NOAA blog post analyzing the National Centers for Environmental Information billion-dollar disaster report.

Read more about the potential consequences of climate change on Americans’ ocular health in the AOA Focus articles “Climate Changing Care” and “Eye and the Storms.”

Supporting doctors when the worst happens

There’s no knowing when or where a natural disaster may strike. As primary eye health care providers in their communities, doctors of optometry can often be a resource in the response and recovery efforts following a catastrophe. However, when doctors themselves are affected by a disaster, hindering their ability to provide care, Optometry’s Fund for Disaster Relief (OFDR) stands ready to help doctors restore critical patient care.

A program of Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation, OFDR provides up to $4,000 in financial support to doctors of optometry affected by disasters with an aim toward helping cover necessary expenses and expediting doctors’ ability to reopen their practices. Originally established in 2005 in the wake of  Hurricane Katrina, the fund has distributed more than 500 grants totaling more than $1 million in aid to date.

“Our goal is to provide immediate financial support that can help doctors and their care teams get back into practice faster, helping meet their patients’ and communities eye health needs as they navigate difficult times,” says Catherine Amos, O.D., OFDR program chair.

“The optometric family is a relatively small but close-knit group of health care providers, and our profession has always been quick and generous in their support of colleagues when the worst does occur.”

Thanks to the continued and generous support of EssilorLuxottica and CooperVision, as well as individual donations from across the profession, OFDR has been an impactful resource through these recent, record-setting years for weather disasters.

“It was incredibly helpful just to have that extra security, to give you a little extra time to care for those things in your personal life that were so crazy,” said Katie Parker, O.D., about receiving an OFDR grant earlier this year.

In December, Dr. Parker and her family lost virtually everything when an historic EF4 tornado destroyed her western Kentucky home. That tornado would track 800 miles across Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky, becoming the deadliest December tornado outbreak in recorded U.S. history, killing 93 people and generating over $4 billion in damage. An OFDR grant would help Dr. Parker cover recovery expenses while ensuring she could open her practice the following Monday for her patients.

Only months earlier, Hurricane Ida ripped apart southern Louisiana and Mississippi, and once again OFDR was a valuable resource for helping doctors resume care to their communities. All told, OFDR provided nearly $100,000 in support for doctors affected by the hurricane.

“The OFDR grant came at a critical time to help us begin the recovery process … especially with the office being shut down for such a lengthy time,” noted Kevin Kasovich, O.D., whose practice sustained significant roof damage and water damage in the storm. “The [practice] has been gutted and it will most likely be 6-8 weeks before we can start seeing patients there. We did have a small satellite office that did not sustain any damage. We are able to take turns seeing emergency patients out of the clinic.”

Read more about OFDR’s continued impact in the profession.

How to support OFDR or apply for a grant

Disasters are unpredictable and life-altering, but Optometry Cares is determined to ensure OFDR is always poised and ready to help doctors of optometry, as well as optometry students, overcome challenging times. Optometry students that have experienced property damage due to a disaster are also eligible for assistance. Here's how you can support OFDR or find grant information:

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