Far From COVID-19, Eye Care Businesses Put On Hold | WGLT

Far From COVID-19, Eye Care Businesses Put On Hold

Apr 20, 2020

Hospitals aren’t the only parts of the health care industry hurting in Bloomington-Normal.

The coronavirus has largely put the vision care business on hold. Elective procedures have stopped across the board, including LASIK. Routine appointments—for glasses and contacts—are paused.

At both VisionPoint Eye Center and Gailey Eye Clinic, the shutdown was so abrupt that some patients who had their first eye done for cataracts weren’t able to get the other one finished.

"This is such uncharted territory from so many different angles."

“Their second eye we weren’t allowed to do, because the surgery center basically closed,” said Dr. Daniel Brownstone, an ophthalmologist at VisionPoint who was doing 8-10 cataract surgeries per week. “So these people are basically hanging out there waiting for everything to open up, so they can get both eyes balanced. It’s kind of crazy, to say the least.”

It’s uncomfortable and awkward, but no long-term damage is expected from that sort of delay, said Dr. Kenneth Barba, an ophthalmologist at Gailey.

“It’s purely a matter of perception and having the sense that the eyes are doing two different things can be a little uncomfortable,” he said.

The more significant impact is on employees.

VisionPoint has nearly 100 employees. Now that it’s only handling urgent matters, it’s down to a skeleton crew of 10. They’re making a little extra “combat pay” for taking the risk.

“It’s been a struggle,” Brownstone said.

The rest of VisionPoint’s employees were furloughed at the end of March and able to file for unemployment benefits.

VisionPoint recently learned it was approved for a Paycheck Protection Program loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration, Brownstone said. That will be a “godsend,” he said, as the business’ income rapidly falls to zero this spring when the last insurance payments arrive.

The challenge, he said, is the logistics of spending that loan money. Depending on when VisionPoint reopens, they may end up paying employees to do professional development from home.

“We still don’t know when we’re going to open up again,” Brownstone said. “The idea here was that we wanted to use that money to re-hire everybody. But if we’re still on a stay-at-home order come May 15, that becomes more of a struggle. That’s the challenge we’ve been working with.”

Gailey has around 300 employees at locations across central Illinois. With those locations closed, many employees were left to file for unemployment benefits. Gailey has tried to keep about half of them employed full-time or close to it, Barba said, handling the administrative work of rescheduling appointments and communicating with patients.

Barba said he’s thankful for Gailey’s patients and employees.

“This is such uncharted territory from so many different angles. It’s been a real pleasant eye-opener to be experiencing how people are understanding of the big picture,” Barba said.

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