While Dr. Ian Healy was an orthodontic resident at the University of Tennessee from 2013-16, he dreamed of owning an orthodontic practice in his hometown, Houston – but expected that he would need to defer that dream for several years.
“My wife is a physician who was completing her residency in obstetrics and gynecology, and was going to need to be in Memphis for a while longer,” says Dr. Healy. “We decided that we would both get jobs in the area and planned to stay for the foreseeable future. “
When Dr. Healy was nearing the end of his first year of work at a pediatric dental office in Memphis, however, he was contacted by a friend who had been two years ahead of him in residency.
“My friend had purchased a practice in suburban Houston,” explains Dr. Healy. “His family wanted to return to Austin, though, and he had an opportunity to purchase a practice there. Sadly, the owner of the Austin practice had been diagnosed with cancer and wanted to sell very quickly. My friend asked if I might be interested in the Houston practice. He explained the circumstances surrounding the purchase of the Austin practice and why the timetable was so short.”
Dr. Healy moved quickly through many due diligence tasks with his legal and financial advisors and then, with the blessing of his wife, decided to purchase the practice. As he had been in New Orleans as an undergraduate student at Tulane during Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Healy knew the importance of flood insurance. He immediately investigated necessary items such as the various insurance policies required by his bank. As he evaluated business insurance options, he learned that no commercial flood insurance was available for the area. The area where the office was located had never been known to flood.
“FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) flood insurance was available,” he says. “But the other doctors who had owned the practice did not have it, and since the immediate area surrounding the practice had no history of flooding I elected not to take the FEMA insurance.”
The closing on the Houston practice was scheduled Monday, August 28. On August 25, the storm known as Hurricane Harvey had made landfall in southern Texas as a Category 4 hurricane.
Sale Closes During the Hurricane
Despite the approaching storm and foreboding forecasts, Dr. Healy continued with the purchase of the practice, reassured by the area’s history during prior storms.
“Some of my advisors encouraged me to push back the closing,” says Dr. Healy. “However, doing so was not much of an option. The sale of the Austin practice was contingent on our sale being completed. The Austin doctor had pushed that closing date as far back as he felt comfortable with and large sums of money were also on the line should the deal not close. So ultimately, we decided to continue with the scheduled closing date.”
As Dr. Healy closed the purchase of the practice, Harvey stalled over southern Texas. A historic and devastating set of winds suspended the storm over Houston, deluging the area with 50 inches of rain in some areas.
“The suburb in northeast Houston where the practice is located had suffered only minor flooding at that point, and I spent early Tuesday glued to the news,” says Dr. Healy. “People were getting around many parts of Houston on boats and jet skis. Our area had a lot of green space that could absorb water, though, and that gave me some hope.”
The rain was threatening to overflow Houston’s Addicks and Barker reservoirs, which feed into the Buffalo Bayou and eventually into downtown Houston. Concerned that reservoir overflows would lead to downstream devastation of downtown Houston, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began draining the reservoirs much more quickly than usual – leading to flooding in surrounding neighborhoods.
The Army Corps of Engineers’ necessary but devastating decision exacerbated the effect of the historic storm. That day, Dr. Healy found his office flooded with four feet of water.
“I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach,” he says. “I was devastated. It took years of hard work to reach the point of practice ownership and overnight, Harvey erased it. Once I got over the initial shock, I knew I had to start planning for how to get through this.”
At the time, there was no way to know how much it would cost to replace the ruined office and clinical equipment, furnishings, carpet.
“I thought perhaps we would need up to $200,000,” says Dr. Healy, who began contacting his insurance agents and his bank. “The bankers are also invested in the practice, of course, and offered some helpful advice right away.”
Social Media Spur Support from around the Nation
Overwhelming support began to materialize as Dr. Healy posted about his situation on the orthodontic Facebook groups, Orthopreneurs and Orthodontic Pearls.
“I thought there were probably people out there who had been through hurricanes like Katrina or Sandy, and asked if anyone could offer me any advice,” he says. “The response was unbelievable – not just helpful advice, but also financial and tangible support. Some offered used equipment. A New Orleans orthodontist told me that after Katrina, he was not able to see any new patients for six months. He is now retired and offered to drive to Houston and help me.”
An orthodontist in Utah who created the Orthodontic Pearls group, Dr. Brian Anderson, was moved by the story and decided to act. He started a GoFundMe on Dr. Healy’s behalf that exceeded its $50,000 goal within two days, thanks to donations from many fellow orthodontists and other friends. Dr. Healy also contacted the AAO and received assistance with the process of applying for a grant from the Disaster Relief Fund, which helps support members whose practices have been impacted by disasters.
“A friend from dental school at the University of Texas told me he had contracted to sell his X-ray machine to Renew Digital, but would ask them if he could sell it to me instead,” says Dr. Healy. “The company explained they had already promised the parts to another client, but would be happy to give me a different refurbished machine and install it for free. Alumni from the University of Tennessee also have been wonderful. One donated $10,000, which just overwhelmed me.”
The real estate company that owns the building where Dr. Healy’s practice is located will repair the exterior of the building as well as the walls.
“They may also cover the cabinetry, which would be great,” he says. ‘The flooring and carpeting will be on us, though. And it will be a long process, likely six to eight months, with many other businesses in the area – including approximately 300 dentists and dental specialists – possibly needing to rebuild.”
Dr. Healy Begins Caring for His New Patients
In the meantime, a local dentist offered to let Dr. Healy use his office two days a week to see patients. A pediatric dentist and other orthodontists have also offered office space.
“The practice had planned a week of vacation after the closing, so we did not have to start rescheduling patients immediately,” says Dr. Healy. “And of course, not all of them have been easy to reach. There was also the complication that we had not yet announced the practice sale to the patients and were preparing to do that when the office flooded. The previous owner of the practice wanted to let them know that he had ‘hand-picked me’ to take it. But in spite of everything, we have managed to spend two days so far treating patients and I have begun meeting some of the parents.”
Dr. Healy has also been relieved by the fact that the home that he and his wife had just moved into did not flood.
“We are so much more fortunate than many Houstonians in that we have an undamaged place to live,” he says. “My father and brother live here and while my brother’s truck took on some water, their homes remained high and dry, so we are thankful for that.
“And I’m eternally grateful for the abundance of support I have received from the orthodontic community,” adds Dr. Healy. “It really shows the power of social media – and the fact that orthodontists look out for each other. It’s an honor and a privilege to be part of the orthodontic specialty.”