Storm recovery focus of NYC symposium

Veterinarians, physicians, dentists invited to free event

November 15, 2012 (published)
By Edie Lau

Among the thousands of homes and businesses harmed by Superstorm Sandy in the hardest-hit states of New York and New Jersey are an estimated 700 to 800 medical, dental and veterinary practices.

The figure, provided by Steve Kess of Henry Schein Inc., a supplier of products and services to health-care practitioners, explains why the company is hosting a free "recovery empowerment" symposium in New York City Friday that is open to all health-care professionals. The event aimed at getting them back on their feet after the destructive Oct. 29 storm.

“The impact is huge,” said Kess, Schein’s vice president for global professional relations and board president of the Henry Schein Cares Foundation, a nonprofit philanthropic organization.

Kess said the greatest losses to property appear to have occurred on coastlines, predominantly affecting residences and the recreation sector. Overall, health-care practices in large part sustained damage, perhaps including equipment loss, but many escaped complete destruction, he said.

“We’re getting feedback that a bigger issue is patient and customer cancellation (of appointments) because of the loss of power and loss of transportation,” Kess said.

Friday’s symposium, which runs 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Westin New York at Times Square on 43rd Street and 8th Avenue, will provide information ranging from accessing government programs and private insurance to coping with emotional stress. Speakers include people with experience in the Gulf states’ recovery from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

It was during the aftermath of Katrina that Henry Schein first became involved in disaster-recovery symposia, Kess said.

“We felt seven years ago that our role, given that we work so closely with health professionals in the community, was to work with (professional) associations at the community level to help them put on events that would give their members an opportunity to feel that they weren’t alone; a place to turn to (for) advice, and support for the personal and professional challenges they’re facing in terms of the damages they incur, the loss to their practices and also the financial burden of repairing or completely rebuilding a practice,” he said.

“It’s a time of anxiety and stress on a personal and professional level, so we developed a program (after Sandy) based on the model we built at Katrina,” Kess continued. “The circumstances are so similar.”

Kess noted that the Katrina symposium was hosted in conjunction with the American Medical Association and American Dental Association but did not involve veterinarians because Schein’s veterinary distribution business was much smaller at the time. Since then, Schein has become the nation’s largest veterinary supply distributor owing to a merger in 2010 with Butler Animal Health.

Schein officials said Friday’s event can accommodate up to 200 participants, and people may attend parts of the program if they cannot stay for the full day.

On the agenda are morning sessions on state and federal programs, banking, tax issues and insurance. Afternoon sessions focus on maintaining a positive attitude and general steps toward recovery.

Several veterinarians in the region affected by Sandy told the VIN News Service they welcome the event and would like to attend. But the logistics of recovering from the storm will make it difficult for some to participate.

Dr. Brian Spar is an example. Spar said he and his wife, also a veterinarian, missed many days of work after Sandy flooded their home in Oceanside on New York’s Long Island, destroying the ground floor. For a week and a half, the couple and their two young children stayed with Spar’s sister in Brooklyn — too far to commute, especially with the gasoline shortage that hit in the days following the storm.
Eventually, the family was able to move to a friend's place closer to home. For the moment, the two adults, two children, a dog and two cats are crammed in a studio apartment. “We’re living out of garbage bags,” Spar said. “It’s not fun right now. But we’re lucky we had places to go.”

In light of the challenges of daily life and considering that they’re finally both back at work, Spar said that to take a day off work to attend a recovery symposium “would be a bit difficult.” He added: “In theory, it sounds like a very useful thing.”

Schein’s Kess acknowledged that the logistics of recovery ironically may dampen attendance at the recovery event. The company is planning to host more such events in the near future in hopes of reaching more practitioners.

That recovery from Superstorm Sandy will be a long process is evident in reports from the New York City Veterinary Emergency Response Team (NYCVERT), a group of volunteer veterinarians and animal health professionals who do disaster planning and emergency response for pets in the city.

Dr. Barbara Kalvig, a member of the team, said the group has been working nonstop in the two-and-a-half weeks since the storm.

“Approximately 220 pets were housed in the shelter system throughout the five boroughs at a high point of Sandy response. The numbers fluctuate up and down as people move out of the shelters with their pets, others move in, and shelters are consolidated from one location to the next,” according to a report from the team.

As of Wednesday night, 153 pets were in the emergency shelter system, Kalvig told the VIN News Service. Of those, 91 were in shelters with people; the rest were in pet-only shelters. All are animals with known owners, not stray or feral animals.

In addition, Kalvig said, “There are many vets in hard-hit areas temporarily housing client pets.”

Kalvig does not expect a full recovery for some time. “The response will go on long into the future,” she said.

Phyllis DeGioia contributed to this report.

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