By Kimberly McHugh, OD, Stellar Vision Optometry, Queens, New York
I grew up in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, but once I made my way to New York City for optometry school, the city has its ways to keep people here. In 2014, I met my husband, who was born in Guyana but has lived in Queens since a teenager, and I’ve now lived in New York City for 15 years and counting.
My husband, Andrew Woolward, is an occupational therapist. He opened up Stellar Physical and Occupational Therapy in 2013 along with his business partner, Kimberly Zhu, in Elmhurst, Queens. They became a part of the developing health care community that encompasses the area.
Andrew and I discussed my professional goal of providing family and medical optometry while also pursuing a dream of being my own boss. We came up with the goal of investing not only in myself, as a woman in optometry and business, but also in the Elmhurst community in which he and his business partner have grown and flourished.
Stellar Vision opened its doors to the community of Elmhurst in July of 2018. Being in Elmhurst meant that we were going to serve a diverse, hard-working population, many of whom were first-generation immigrant families. The community was in need of a family and medical optometrist, with a doctor and supporting staff they could trust with vision care for themselves and family members and also who could help them navigate with other co-management specialties.
We knew and wanted from the start a staff team that reflected the community’s population. Queens claims it is the county with the higher diversity in the nation. We have staff who are immigrants themselves and who speak Chinese, French and Spanish. Our manager (who emigrated from France and obtained her citizenship this past year) came up with the idea to have a scratch-off map in the office. Patients can scratch off their home country. It’s been a wonderful way to interact and learn from our patients.
COVID-19 has obviously been an uncertain time for our business and a major concern for the safety and health of our staff and patients. Elmhurst was an epicenter of the initial outbreak in the U.S. We were vigilant from the beginning to listen to all expert recommendations and directives. We closed our doors from March to May to routine care, as per CDC recommendations, and we remained open to see urgent and emergent eye care by appointment. Elmhurst Hospital at that time was one of the most overburdened hospitals in the nation, so we were more than willing and able to provide eye care to those in need so they could avoid having to seek care at urgent care centers or hospitals.
We opened our doors again at the end of May with strict protocols to ensure not only the population’s safety but also for our valued staff. I’m always amazed at the ability of New Yorkers to pull together in tragedy and uncertainty and help others out. I honestly have experienced nothing but compassion, understanding and cooperation with our reopening.
During COVID, I was grateful to Vision Source, which I joined even before opening, for being a proactive leader in reaching out to our region of New York City and Long Island members. We had several teleconference calls with each other to discuss our business plans or just bounce ideas around, since we were all learning as we went along. Though there was no previous protocol for this time, yet there was definite comfort in knowing “we were all in this together.”
Vision Source did a wonderful job of understanding the financial stresses we as business owners were feeling and took the initiative to waive monthly fees during that time period. It also provided access to vendors that were willing to offer various assistance. The network took it upon itself to organize the need for PPE and reach out to vendors that could assist us with accessing proper PPE, which was very difficult to come by especially in the early days.