Assistance from UGA keeps essential employees on front line


The Gwinnett Eye Clinic in Duluth kept its doors open and continued treating patients with glaucoma, retinal detachments and other eye injuries when the COVID-19 response temporarily closed many others. In fact, the practice set a record for seeing patients through its affiliation with two major ophthalmology surgery centers that had temporarily closed.


“We stayed open because we were able to do it. And I live near here. Had I not opened the clinic, I’d have had patients lined up on my front porch,” said owner Dr. Phillip Johnson, an optometrist and fourth-generation Gwinnett resident.


To keep the business open while employees modified the clinic’s cleaning and safety procedures, Johnson worked with the UGA Small Business Development Center to get a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan to cover his 14 employees’ salaries.


Amber Bennett at the UGA Small Business Development Center was a lifeline for us,” he said. “We sent her our financial information, and she helped us fill out the application and work with Iberia Bank, checking it over to make sure we did everything right.”


The PPP  was included in the federal Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act approved by Congress in the spring.


“The PPP loan was a new business concept, so I walked Dr. Johnson through the loan calculation process from an educational standpoint,” said Bennett, a consultant in the SBDC’s Gwinnett regional office. “Together, we used his payroll forms and calculated, using the SBA guidance, his eligible amount for the PPP funds. Because we did a concise calculation, he could go to his banker and they could process the loan for him ASAP.”


The loan was approved on the first round, allowing Gwinnett Eye Clinic to remain fully staffed.


“You never want to shut down a business for any reason, and I’m glad we didn’t,” Johnson said. “We, our staff and our patients, are all very appreciative of the SBDC. Amber’s help was a lifesaver for us.”