A road to recovery

Flood-stricken practice owner talks about lessons learned
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May 01, 2011

NASHVILLE, TENN. — Crossing your fingers and hoping it never happens to you is not an effective disaster management plan.

Dr. Jill Burgess, owner of the Animal Hospital of West Nashville, hopes her story will convince other practice owners that disaster preparedness is key.

Last May, her practice, which she bought almost four years ago, was in the path of a 1,000-year flood in Nashville. The practice—the second-oldest in Tennessee, dating back to the mid-1920s—was destroyed by four to five feet of water. The clinic "filled up like a water balloon."


Flood waters came too quickly: Above left, flood waters rushed in too soon for six animals, who died in the kennels at Burgess' Nashville practice last year. The new kennels, above right, have been positioned higher.
Twenty-four animals were kenneled at her practice at the time, and six lives—two clinic cats, two cats owned by a clinic staffer and two dogs being boarded for clients—were lost.

Fast-forward to November, and Burgess moved back in to her newly renovated practice after having to rebuild and replace nearly everything. She had practice insurance, but no flood insurance at the time of the flood.

Construction costs to rebuild after the flood totaled about $35,000, but Burgess says the larger cost came in replacing the $100,000 worth of inventory and equipment lost to the flood. She estimates she easily lost 75 percent of her inventory. Some equipment was lost to the flood, but other pieces that were salvaged are just now failing because of the exposure to moisture.

The economic loss will be most significant, she estimates, guessing it will add up to more than $200,000, though she won't know for certain for a few more months.


A warm reception: Flood waters reached the top of Burgess' former reception desk, above left. The new lobby, right, is a sign of the clinic's fresh start.
Practice owners should document as much as possible, as soon as possible. Keep that list in a safe place. Even though she took hundreds of photos and had a basic inventory, Burgess would have liked a more detailed itemized list. She also would have taken a more active role in watching exactly what was salvaged and thrown out. But the demands of the recovery are great, she says, and it was difficult to be there to supervise all phases of the cleanup.

"As difficult as it is, be the one who approves what is thrown away or (delegate the duty) to very trusted and knowledgeable people," she says. "A bunch of stuff was thrown away that was still good, maybe just muddy."

Burgess is still finding things missing as she works to reorganize her practice.

"I still feel like I'm reinventing the wheel. We just have to rethink everything and, honestly, get the groove back. A lot of things you don't really truly recognize as missing until you're going along and need them," Burgess says. "It's really easy to get overwhelmed. It feels like you are going one step forward and two steps back most days."