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John Marvin

How this Crisis Will Prepare Us for Future Ones

What I learned from leading an organization of 118 private optometry practices will change how we provide support and how our providers will deliver care.

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Challenges in life are inevitable. How we respond to them either make us better or destroys us.

When this year began, it held the promise of a thriving economy, more growth in our practices, and a special year for our profession. It was 2020 after all. Then, in an instant, it wasn’t.

What happens when everything you expected is suddenly different? What if that difference threatens everything you consider important? COVID-19 changed everything in our industry. It closed both private and corporate practices all across the country. Overnight, revenues fell by almost 80 percent.

What I learned from leading an organization of 118 private optometry practices will change how we provide support and how our providers will deliver care in the future. With our practices ordered to shut down, I had to figure out how to best support them and provide resources to help them navigate this unprecedented challenge. Here are the steps I took:

First Things First

Once our state and local governments announced that businesses were to shut down, I knew that there were three areas with which our doctors immediately needed help. They needed to know how to handle their payroll, how to manage their rent or lease payments, and they needed assurance that they were not alone.

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We organized a live webinar to assure our members they are a family, and when things get difficult, the family pulls together. I invited two of our leader doctors to share their story and give some direction. I invited an attorney to answer questions and provide guidance for decisions on payroll and landlords. The webinar was followed with a two page summary of legal options and obligations. We provided communication that could be used to ask for rent abatements.

Stay Focused and Move On

Once the CARES Act passed Congress, there was a need for our members to understand how to access the support for small businesses. We produced a presentation from our attorneys to the various elements of the CARES Act and how our members could use them. We trained our field managers about the criteria of qualifying for a payroll protection loan from the Small Business Administration. These field managers organized ZOOM video conferences with doctors in their region to answer questions and provide direction on how to calculate the loan amount. We set up a COVID-19 Resource Center website and uploaded all of the legal guidance documents, recorded webinars, and links to critical information.

Look Beyond the Moment

Once the critical issues were addressed — payroll, landlords, and strengthening community — my attention turned to our strategy for reopening. It was inevitable that our offices would reopen to routine care. An essential fundamental to reopening success is our connection with patients. We extended our community of family to include our patients through communication. We began a series of weekly emails with information about how to care for eyewear and the effects of four weeks of binging on digital devices.

We also began preparing to help our members with their businesses. We needed to help them better plan for unexpected interruptions. This included better budgeting and financial management. We provided education on what is necessary for a thorough HR program and the potential impact of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

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What I learned from all this is now a blueprint for how we respond to any threatening challenge. You focus on the first things first. You cannot predict the future, or spend energy trying to figure out why this happened, you have to focus on what needs your immediate attention. Don’t waste energy on regrets or what could have, or should have, been done; stay focused on what is in front of you. Then you can begin to prepare so you’re ready when the threat is diminished or eliminated.

Only after this, do you look back and incorporate what you learned into how you handle crises in the future.

John D. Marvin has more than 25 years of experience in the ophthalmic and optometric practice industry. He is the president of Texas State Optical and writes about marketing, management and education at the practiceprinciples.net blog. You can email him at [email protected]

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