By Ian G. Whipple, OD
April 8, 2020
At a time when many practices have decided to layoff employees, I have decided to retain mine. Here is why I am doing it, and how I am managing through the COVID-19 shutdown.
Holding On to a Great Team
I have an amazing team right now, and it has taken a lot of effort to assemble and train the team. I don’t want to run the risk of losing any of them, so we are all staying on the payroll for now. I share with employees everything I discover about the financial impact on the practice – and this information is changing every hour.
I have applied for a CARES Act payroll assistance loan with the expectation that we’ll be able to obtain loan forgiveness by keeping staff onboard.
Our staff meets regularly via Zoom conferences. Our opticians are in the middle of studying together via Zoom to take the American Optometric Association (AOA) paraoptometric certification exams (CPO), and I have other staff members working on Vision Source Learning trainings.
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Other staff members have been assigned to personally call all patients who have expired contact-lens prescriptions (or those with prescriptions that will be expiring soon) to make sure they are well stocked with lenses during this time of uncertainty. The staff has done an excellent job of making these sales happen. Nine out of the first 10 days that we had skeleton staff, and were only open to emergency patients, the staff was able to at least “earn their wages” by covering our payroll costs through proactive contact-lens sales.
We have a sizable rainy day savings that I expect to use over the next few weeks to keep our team on the payroll. My hope is that the CARES Act will fund us soon and take care of the rest of our downtime.
I know there are plenty of other options to take care of staff. I resist with every fiber of my being the option of layoffs because of the negative impact and effect that it would likely have on staff morale. I respect other practice owners for their decisions, and they are completely individual choices, but I feel this is the route that will give me the best chance of keeping my amazing team intact.
I do feel that we need to act as if we are on an airplane, however, in that we need to put on our own oxygen masks first before assisting others. It is imperative that we have a practice to return to when this all ends, and doctors must do what makes the most sense for their individual practices. The option of training and having my team work remotely makes sense for me and I’m sticking with my gut feeling that this is the best option in this difficult time for my practice.
Getting a Deferment on Loan Payments
I have been successful in obtaining a three-month deferral for my practice loans from our bank, Wells Fargo. This is an interest-free deferral that frees up several weeks of expenses, which I plan to use to continue funding our payroll. My practice’s professional network, Vision Source, has deferred royalty payments for two months, and we’re grateful for that. The American Optometric Association immediately gave a two-month refund on pre-paid dues, which I plan to use for personal savings.
Communicating with Patients
We have sent out two e-mail blasts to every patient. The first one simply said that we are following Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations and that we are postponing routine care until April 1. Obviously, now that April is here, and there is not a definite end in sight, we will need to adjust that re-opening schedule. Right now we are targeting May 1, but I expect that is also an arbitrary date that will change based on the data.
Click HERE to download the text of the letter we have e-mailed to our patients.