MONTGOMERY, Ohio — When Bud Schaefer got a piece of metal lodged in his eye during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the last thing he wanted to do was spend hours waiting in the emergency room.
Thanks to optometrist Dr. Michelle Howell, Schaefer was able to get his eye looked at and treated in the comfort of the InFocus Eye Care office in Montgomery and never had to step foot into a hospital.
“The pandemic was just starting and nobody knew what was going on,” Schaefer said. “So I called her and met her at her office and there was no one there and she took care of it.”
It was a good thing, too, because Schaefer’s eye was starting to develop an infection, and he said the piece of metal was causing major discomfort.
“It was actually sticking straight out so every time I would blink it would scratch the inside of my eyelid,” he said.
Schaefer’s care was possible because Howell has been allowed to keep the Montgomery and Erlanger branches of her optometry office open when many optical retailers were deemed non-essential and forced to close during the pandemic.
The medical work that Howell does to keep patients like Schaefer out of the emergency room was the main reason the Ohio Optometric Association let her keep working.
“I've been open this whole time, because opticals were required to close, but because I’ve done so much medical care, they required me to stay open,” Howell said. “I remove foreign bodies; I treat eye infections, ulcers, all of that kind of stuff. So for a while, three to four weeks, we could only do emergencies and urgencies.”
And while InFocus Eye Care has stayed open, the office looks a lot different than it did before COVID-19.
“We’ve altered it down to one patient an hour so that way we have time to clean and sanitize everything in between,” Howell said.
She also wears a mask when she sees patients and requests that people visiting her office do the same. There are special shields installed on the equipment as well.
Even though Howell has been allowed to stay open, the economic impact of COVID-19 has taken its toll.
“You are not doing sales on much glasses and contacts or anything,” she said. “I’m just doing office visits. It's very difficult to pay your staff, rent, electric. All the other bills that have not changed over time.”
Howell did apply for federal small business loans to stay operational, but it wasn’t easy.
“I did do the PPP loan the SBA loan,” Howell said. “I filled them out several times, there were many glitches in the system but I did wind up getting help and that has definitely helped me out a lot.”