COVID-19: Into The Unknown
In the summer of 2016, this is what ModernEyes Eyecare + Eyewear looked like. We were in construction and anxiously awaiting completion of our new optometry practice and were excited to begin seeing patients and seeing what the future would hold for us.
Over the past few days, I’ve felt the need to open up to all of you on where we are. While we are still seeing patients in need of eyecare here and there, our office is quiet other than phone calls coming in to order contacts and reschedule appointments. We are doing what we can to flatten the curve. We are getting through this one day at a time, sometimes only in chunks of a few hours at a time as information related to COVID-19 continues to change at a rapid rate. I love optometry and glasses and contacts and I feel empty not being able to be fully accessible to all of our patients no matter their vision and eyecare needs. However, right now, we are needing to scale that back to urgent and emergent concerns only, leaving us feeling emotionally raw.
Our office smells of Sani-wipes, bleach, and other sterile cleaning supplies. My hands are chapped. So are my staff’s.
What do we say? How do we be as open as possible about what we are experiencing? We are a new, small business that hasn’t been around long enough to generate the recommended 3-6 months in savings. We have various insurance policies, but none of them can tell us if we can consider this “business interruption” because it’s a pandemic and it’s unprecedented. In better moments, I find myself believing that we can and will build it all back when the viral waters recede and we can begin resuming life in whatever the new normal may look like. As an office, we went from a brand new location without a very established patient base and a single staff member in addition to myself, to 3 ½ years in with a consistently busy schedule and three full-time team members plus me and were finally moving into the black financially. And, I’m proud of how well we’ve done as a business by treating people well and making glasses and contact lens recommendations based on what people need for their best vision and lifestyle needs instead of upselling. I don’t pay my team commission because I want them making suggestions based on what I prescribe and what the patient needs in their lenses. But then, minutes later, I find myself thinking about all of the unknowns again. I’m confident and have faith that we will be ok yet nervous for the livelihood of my staff and our family in the same moment.
My staff and I are having continual conversations about where we are and what our plans are. Of course, they’re changing daily at this point, but I believe in trying to be open and honest with them. My goal is to keep my team employed as long as I can. Maybe a month, maybe not, maybe longer. I don’t know. I don’t have the answers yet. We’ve had conversations on what can be done remotely versus what cannot. How long can we feasibly keep paying our team? I find myself wondering if it is better for them to get laid off and seek unemployment if it might be inevitable anyway? I don’t know. We are looking into our options. I’m talking with HR people. I’m talking with a wonderfully supportive network of other area optometrists.
I’m talking with the owner of the building, our bank that provided the loan to open the office, our vendors about what payments can be reduced or put on hold so we can keep our staff. I’m seeing if we can get an increase on our line of credit. We are looking into SBA loans, but may not qualify. We are hoping and praying that the federal government can make loans easily available with quick access to cash resources. I’m doing everything in my power to not draw a paycheck from the office, but we also have student loans and expenses that may not go away with this crisis. We are doing what we can.
Then back to my staff. While my husband, Josh, isn’t on our office payroll, he has been my emotional support through the entire process of opening a practice and into now. He helps outside of his real job, which we can’t be thankful for enough right now, by doing IT things, changing light bulbs, cleaning and organizating and more. He’s my rock. He does extra parenting duty when I’m working late or on weekends. Without his support, this office isn’t possible.
Then, there’s Adam. He’s been with us since before opening. He helped us select our initial inventory of frames. He helped put up our displays and get the office ready for seeing patients. He helped set up our electronic records software. He cuts lenses for people in office. He still helps purchase our frame inventory. He takes some of the administrative load from me by helping with claim filing and follow-up, posting payments, inventory, price setting and statistics tracking. He has a wife and a son. I want to minimize the disruption this pandemic puts on their lives as much as possible.
Next we have Cassidy. Cassidy started with us last summer, but I’ve known her from another practice where I was filling in for a couple of years now. She has a 7 year old son. She’s been through a ton and has made incredible and positive life changes since starting at our office. I’m proud of her and the progress she’s made. I don’t want changes in our office to affect her ability to provide for her son.
Our newest team member is Nan. Nan has been with us since last fall. She’s a retired accountant and has jumped in to being our patient care coordinator. She’s the first friendly voice and face you meet when you come into the office. At least most of the time, we all rotate jobs from time to time! I’ve known Nan my entire life because she’s my mom. My parents have been instrumental in providing support and helping us with our kids when Josh and I need to spend some time at the practice when we are closed working on this or that. They’ve got our backs emotionally.
I’m trying to be a good leader. I’m questioning my abilities on that. I am trying to keep mental health a top priority. I’m trying to not drown in fear. I’m trying to stick to reputable sources of information instead of a lot of the polarized and sometimes completely wrong information circulating social media. I’m reaching out and having discussions with other local optometrists who are in the same boat. I’m meditating and praying. We’re staying active in our online church and small groups. I’m looking forward to picking up our new puppy, Ruby, on Saturday. Puppy snuggles fix everything, right? I’m looking forward to having some additional time with our boys. Brayden and Landon light up my world. I’m looking forward to nicer weather where we can get outside and go for some walks or play in the yard. I have faith we will all make it through one way or another.
Ruby, Dr. Reed's soon-to-pick-up puppy
As a small business, we appreciate our customers and patients so much. We can’t do any of this without you. We hope to come out of this ok and ultimately be stronger than we were just a few short weeks ago. We are pulling for and praying for all of you in this time, too. Some of you might be small business owners or employees in various service industries that are dealing with the exact same things we are dealing with right now. You get it.
I’m not sure if we are doing things right or wrong. I’m not sure how this all shakes out in the end. But, I have faith we will get there. Let’s band together (separately) and support one another! Thanks for listening.