Smile Source Dentists Rally for Louisiana Flood Victims
LAFAYETTE, La., Sept. 26, 2016 -- When the nation’s greatest natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy struck Louisiana in August, no one seemed to notice. No one, that is, except for the 100,000 families who watched with horror as the rain kept coming down for four days straight, overflowing the rivers, swamping homes and businesses.
Dr. Tony Soileau, owner of Smiles by Soileau in Lafayette, sent out a simple message on a forum shared by a professional network of 420 Smile Source-affiliated dentists. In stark terms, he told them south Louisiana was about to be under water and he needed as much help as he could get. Not for him, but for the community he loves.
“What we need most of all is scrubs. The families have no dry clothes. Any scrubs you have, even if they are XXXL or Xsmall, it’s OK. Holes or names on the scrubs do not matter. They just need something dry,” Dr. Soileau wrote.
The Smile Source network responded. Dentists across the country overnighted scrubs, flip-flops, children’s clothing, and personal hygiene items directly to Dr. Soileau. The Smile Source dentists shared the post on other forums, even on a South Carolina Gamecocks football board, and sent emails to their community leaders and patients asking them to donate supplies that could be shipped down to Dr. Soileau. Truckloads of supplies started arriving, between 40 and 80 boxes a day, the result of the generosity of the doctors and their communities.
Whole towns were under water, and boats were bringing people to their local churches, turning them into makeshift shelters that were not receiving supplies yet from the Red Cross or FEMA. Dr. Soileau’s small team of five people would load up their pick-ups with supplies and drive them to more than a dozen of these locations.
“By Wednesday, we’re getting a mass exodus of people into the shelters, so now we need toothpaste, soap, shampoo,” Dr. Soileau said. “We’re worried about potential infection because people are chronically stressed and living in cramped conditions. I sent out another plea for help on the forum for those kinds of supplies, and I start calling dental companies like Proctor and Gamble and Darby to ask them to contribute.”
As the needs of the crisis changed, so did the response of Dr. Soileau and his colleagues.
“The doctors understood what was going on, so they helped at every stage,” Dr. Soileau explained. “The shelters were overcrowded, so we needed mouthwash, deodorant, Neosporin, anything that would reduce the chance of illness. Just think about it: you’ve lost your home, you’ve lost your vehicle, you’ve lost your job, you’re living in a makeshift shelter or with friends, and now you could get sick. What’s so cool is that because my team was going to all of these churches and donation centers, they could tell me exactly what each individual place needed so we could supply based on needs.”
The media coverage receded long before the floodwaters did. The homes were sitting in unclean water for weeks. The Smile Source network of doctors and their affiliated suppliers kept answering the call for help. They sent gloves, masks, bleach, and trash bags that Dr. Soileau’s team distributed to homeowners tearing out drywall. They sent blankets and pillows, stuffed animals and coloring books to help the children. Dr. Soileau’s team would inventory every box of supplies that came in, and have it loaded on a pickup and distributed within a day.
“I told my team I would work on patients myself,” Dr. Soileau said. “I told them, I’m still paying you a salary, but just get the supplies to the people. You can’t imagine the devastation. I’m mostly just doing emergency dentistry. I tell my patients, just pay what you can and we’ll square up later. Eventually they’ll get a new home, a new job, and they’ll come back to me. And the dental lab has been great. They’ve offered to help with production with delayed payment.”
Both the Louisiana Dental Association Foundation and the American Dental Association Foundation offered aid to dentists impacted by the flooding. As of late August, 40 dentists had reported flooding in their offices, homes, or both.
But it’s having a community of colleagues that made the difference for Dr. Soileau. He joined Smile Source in 2014 to have access to business development tools and lower supply and lab fees. He didn’t expect the overwhelming support system he found. That’s part of the group’s culture, according to Trevor Maurer, President and CEO of Smile Source.
“We’re comprised of independent dentists who are used to having to solve problems on their own. It’s powerful to see the impact we can have when we work together to support each other,” said Mr. Maurer.
Todd Nickerson, the Vice President of Business Development of Smile Source, runs the Smile Source Foundation. It does a lot of charity work and mission work and was set up to help its members in times of need. It was one of the first to contribute financially to Dr. Soileau’s efforts.
“It’s so heartwarming,” said Mr. Nickerson. “As a community, our Smile Source is all about helping our independent doctors professionally and personally. It can be hard to ask for help, and we were glad we were able to do this.”
There is still a need for more help. This is going to be a difficult holiday season for the people of south Louisiana who have lost so much. Dr. Soileau’s team is now collecting presents and gift cards that will go to the children in the Lafayette area.
“Everything is gone. It’s not like the flood came in, the flood left, and back to work. No, all of south Louisiana is messed up,” said Dr. Soileau. “The families lost everything and the parents don’t have any money left. So Christmas is going to be awfully tough this year. Anything we can do to provide a little bit of relief, we’re going to do.”
Disaster Planning Tips
1. Have a disaster plan
2. Have each team member’s cell phone number
3. Move computers, hard drive, equipment to high ground
4. Shut off all electricity to your office via the master switch
5. Do not turn electricity back on until after the grid is fully restored
6. Don’t try to make money after a disaster; just treat your patients. They’ll remember it.