UPDATED: After Hurricane Florence Pounds Southern States, Optical Industry Responds With Support and Aid

By

NEW YORK—After being pounded by the high winds and flooding generated by Hurricane Florence, eyecare practices in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are trying to recover with help from the optical industry, which has responded swiftly to aid those affected by Florence and its aftermath. While some businesses have been able to reopen, others remain closed at this time. Luxottica Retail and MyEyeDr. were among the businesses in the region that were affected. EyeMed, VSP Global, and the American Optometric Association all offered their services for relief. Some practices let their communities know their status through social media such as Seashore Eye Associates, OD PLLC and Ocean Eye Optometry.

“At the peak of the storm, Luxottica Retail had closed 82 of its stores in the path of Florence,” said a Luxottica Retail spokesperson. “Nearly half of those have reopened in the last day. Fortunately, we can confirm that all employees are currently safe and there has been no damage to our stores. Given the ongoing rain and flooding, we will continue to monitor the situation,” the spokesperson said.

EyeCare Partners, one of the largest optical retailers in North Carolina with 35 offices under the “eyecarecenter” name, as of Wednesday morning had six offices that remained closed, and two of these were still inaccessible, according to Sarah Wells, the parent company’s vice president of optometry operations. The inaccessible offices were located in Wilmington, a coastal city, and Laurinburg, which is southeast of Charlotte, N.C.

“The flooding damage has not been significant in some of the offices, but in others it is,” Wells told VMAIL. About 30 of the EyeCare Partners’ offices were closed in the middle of last week in preparation for the hurricane, and slightly more than half of these reopened on Monday, she said.

All of the company’s staff were safe, but some had homes that were damaged as a result of the storm and its aftermath, as well as the widespread power outages. “We have employees who haven’t been able to access their homes [yet],” Wells said.

EyeCare Partners’ St. Louis call center was able to assist in speeding recovery efforts along by taking on patient notifications and in-bound patient telephone calls, which allowed eyecarecenter offices to keep the communication line with patients up and running, Wells noted. “We have the capability to centralize a lot of these things,” she added.

EyeMed is currently working with their members in the affected region to help with any lost or damaged eyewear in need of replacement. They’re offering members a temporary pair of adjustable glasses at no cost by calling EyeMed at (866) 652-0018.

In total, 55 MyEyeDr. offices were impacted in North and South Carolina with closings across the affected region starting on Thursday, with some practices shutting their doors early on Wednesday. Nine offices remain closed today in Wilmington and in key towns along some of the rivers near the coast affected by flooding. Diane Vaccaro of MyEyeDr. said, “The New Bern location opened their doors today as one of the first business to reopen in the area. Within the first hour, the team was already working on helping a long-term patient replace their lost glasses from the flooding. This just is heartwarming to know how we can impact our patient’s day lives.”

VSP vision providers Global spokesperson said, “VSP Global disaster response programs can help. VSP network doctors’ offices that are damaged or closed due to the hurricane can reach out for assistance by calling (800) 615-1883. VSP members who need eyecare or replacement eyewear due to a disaster can receive them even if they're not currently eligible by calling (800) 877-7195; VSP network doctors can call (800) 615-1883 for an authorization.”

In times of natural disasters, the American Optometric Association (AOA) and Optometry Cares offer support to ECPs via its Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief, which the association said can help change the lives of doctors affected by natural disasters, providing immediate financial relief for critical and urgent needs, such as food, clothing and shelter. A program of Optometry Cares—The AOA Foundation, Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief has granted nearly $1 million dollars in grants since its inception in 2005, the AOA noted.

However, a spokeswoman for AOA told VMAIL on Tuesday that AOA has not yet received any disaster relief grant applications related to damages from Hurricane Florence. “But we expect that they'll starting coming in the next week or so. [It] depends on how bad the flooding gets and how far-reaching it is.”

In Wilmington, N.C., Seashore Eye Associates Seashore Eye Associates, OD PLLC said it had reopened its office Tuesday and was planning to be open again today (Wednesday, Sept. 19), according to a post on its Facebook page. “So thankful for our staff that came out today to get our Seashore office back up and running. We went ‘old school’ on paper charts and schedules. Our internet and phones remain down but we will be back tomorrow, Wednesday, Sept. 19 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.,” the Facebook post noted. Earlier this week, Seashore Eye Associates noted that its office “did not suffer any damage from Hurricane Florence and everyone on our staff is safe!”

In South Carolina, Ocean Eye Optometry, which is based in Summerville, closed all three of its locations in the middle of last week to prepare for the hurricane’s arrival. The practice noted on its Facebook page last Wednesday that “due to Hurricane Florence, all Ocean Eye offices are now closed. All offices will reopen on Monday, Sept. 17 at 8:00 a.m.” In addition to Summerville, Ocean Eye operates offices in North Charleston and Trident, S.C.

Practices in Glen Allen, Va. were left unscathed by the storm. “We have not had any members contact our office here for help. Everyone seems to be doing OK,” said Bo Keeney of Virginia Optometric Association. “Everyone is aware of the Optometry Cares foundation in case a need should arise… good news for my members that everyone is OK,” he said.

Separately, Cincinnati-based Super Optical said on Wednesday that it had begun a free replacement lens program for all current customers and non-customers in North Carolina and South Carolina with patients needing replacement eyewear due to Hurricane Florence.

Opticians in both states can receive free Fast Grind lenses, finished single-vision lenses or semi-finished lenses for patients that either lost or damaged their eyewear during the storm, according to the announcement. Opticians should email their requests to Lin@SuperOptical.com or Jenny@SuperOptical.com, with the subject line “Storm Relief — Free Replacement Lenses.” There is no charge for the lenses and no handling-charges. Shipping costs are billed at actual cost.