Florida veterinarians take one more hit


Orlando, Fla.-Insurance surprises have burdened Florida veterinarians with piles of bills and questions about their practices' future.

Orlando, Fla.—Insurance surprises have burdened Florida veterinarians with piles of bills and questions about their practices' future.

Don Schaefer

After Hurricane Andrew's 164-mph winds caused $26.5 billion in damage in the United States, insurance companies and Florida officials made deals to keep deductibles lower, says Don Schaefer, executive director of the Florida Veterinary Medical Association (FVMA).

"Now in addition to the flat-rate deductible, an additional 2 to 5 percent must be paid on the amount of the insured property per incident before the insurance companies will begin to pay anything," Schaefer says.

Help on the way

The FVMA Foundation has donated money to members applying for relief, but aid cannot come fast enough for veterinarians whose clinics remain out of commission weeks after being hit by one or more hurricanes. Some clinics might be closed indefinitely.

Dr. Susan McClure's clinic, Animal Planet Veterinary Hospital, in Port St. Lucie, was severely damaged by Hurricane Jeanne.

"We have pine and palm trees down, broken glass on the front doors, shingles were blown off and the roof is leaking. There is flood damage on the lower level of the clinic and light fixtures are threatening to fall out of the ceiling," McClure says.

McClure, who tore her cruciate ligament during the storm, says the problems stacked up faster than the storms.

"The foundation moved during the last hurricane, then everything went wrong this time," McClure says. "I have a live wire laying across the porch."

The split-level building is holding water in its lowest level, where food supplies and the kennels reside.

"I thought I would be reimbursed through the manufacturers for some of the supplies that were damaged, but I am finding that they will not replace everything," McClure adds.

Layoffs inevitable

Owners are facing not only the loss of business, but they are fearful that they might be forced to make some layoffs because they can no longer make payroll.

"People are fearful of their jobs, not only in the veterinary community, but all around," Schaefer says.

"What happens to veterinarians' client base when no one has a job and has major repairs to make to their own homes and businesses?"

The Colusa Animal Hospital in Boca Raton took a financial hit when the practice lost electricity for almost a week. Without a generator, the clinic was forced to trash vaccines that expired without refrigeration.

"We are hoping to have some of the supplies we lost replaced, but the business we were without over Labor Day weekend will likely not be reimbursed," says Mark Marrison, office manager.

Shows limitations

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has provided relief for veterinarians in areas with severe damage since Charley hit the coast in August. Now that Floridians are trying to pull their businesses back together, they are wondering if FEMA offers anything to them other than a directed phone call to Small Business Administration (SBA) for a loan.

The answer is no, says FEMA spokesperson Butch Kinerney.

"We do not hand money to small businesses," Kinerney says. "We direct calls to SBA, and they can see if the business owners qualify for low-interest loans. We have already funded VMAT teams for veterinarians."

According to Kinerney, FEMA underwrites flood insurance policies for businesses, but business owners will actually have insurance through one of the 93 companies FEMA deals with. FEMA also directs veterinarians to www.grants.gov,. a federal grant clearing house where more paperwork awaits needy DVMs.

"I don't need another loan," McClure says. "I need help."

McClure is one of the many veterinarians who applied for aid through the FVMA Foundation. She rents the building that houses her practice, and the owner has yet to make repairs. Her insurance company has not visited the practice to assess damages.

"I was considering buying a used mobile veterinary clinic, but then I couldn't keep all of my staff," McClure says. "I also don't really have the money to buy a unit after I found out how much they cost."

For now, McClure and her staff have taped body bags over the leaks in the roof and boarded up broken doors and windows, they are trying to keep the business running.

"We have dehumidifiers going everywhere, and we're directing clients through an alternate entrance—away from the live wire," she says with a chuckle. "Sometimes I have to laugh at this because I can't sit here and cry."

Employees had taken boarded animals to their homes during the hurricane because many owners couldn't be reached.

"I really have a great staff, and I have a responsibility to them and my clients," McClure says. "I just want to have a functional clinic, do my job and pay my employees."

Insurance disappointments

Some veterinarians assumed they would be reimbursed by insurance carriers for lost business via the business interruption insurance they carried, Schaefer says. They have been disappointed

"Many veterinarians are telling us that their business interruption insurance isn't covering 'external events,' and certainly not hurricanes," Schaefer says.

The problems for veterinarians don't end with the damage to their practice, or the loss of business. With the average practice consisting of 2.2 veterinarians and six to eight other staff members, paying everyone is a challenge.

"I have my employees working about half of what they would usually work, and I am paying them what I can," McClure says. "With the clinic being partially functional, I cannot perform surgeries, and we aren't getting a lot of business. If something doesn't happen in my favor soon, I will have to let some employees go."

For veterinarians who recently opened a practice and were hit by the hurricane, their debt is mounting, yet they are a wash in loan offers.

"If I had been here just a little less time, I would definitely be going under," she says.

Since McClure doesn't own the building her clinic is in, she says she's not sure about the extent of her financial obligation. "This will be interesting," she says.

The owner of McClure's building is responsible for the upkeep of the exterior, she adds.

Fed Up

"There are limits to what the human mind and spirit can endure, and I think we're at our limit," Schaefer says.

Two veterinary clinics in Pensacola Beach had yet to assess damage because roads have been too dangerous to traverse.

"No one is allowed in the area because it is too dangerous," Schaefer says. "They are fearing their clinics are demolished."

After four hurricanes hit Florida in one season, Schaefer says some veterinarians are talking about moving their practices elsewhere.

"I hope they are just saying that out of anger and won't actually leave," he says.

No state has been hit with four hurricanes in one season since 1886 in Texas, Schaefer adds. "We may have a hurricane season here, but this season hasn't been like anything we've seen before."

FVMA staff is working its way through applications submitted by veterinarians whose clinics suffered physical damage and/or were unable to open due to the effects of one or more hurricanes. The foundation already has administered one set of awards to veterinarians in need, Schaefer says.

Related Videos
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.