Surviving Katrina: One Entrepreneur’s Story

A FRESH Orleans clinical lab owner weighs the continuing future of her business as the floodwaters begin to subside in her hometown.

When Gail Provost last saw her clinical laboratory in New Orleans, water was filling the first floor of the building. Among the thousands of evacuees left homeless by flooding due to Hurricane Katrina, the brand new Orleans entrepreneur was in temporary housing at a Dallas hotel the next day when reality hit.

"I woke up each morning and started crying," Provost says. "When you truly struggle and work 14 to 15 hours a day doing all you can to create your dream become a reality, and you put everything at risk, and today it’s under eight feet of water in New Orleans and all our clients are moving out. .We worked so hard–it enables you to sad."

A couple of days later, she was camped out with her husband and teenage son on mattresses on to the floor of the fitness center of a church in Ennis, Texas. The Provosts had found the shelter through a pal of her mother, even though a bunch of kind volunteers hovered around to greatly help, Provost contemplated the continuing future of her fledgling business.

Provost, 53, originated from humble beginnings in Louisiana’s Lower Ninth Ward–and she determined early that growing up poor wouldn’t stop her from realizing her dreams. "Being poor in Louisiana, I came across that in the event that you worked hard, you could accomplish whatever you set your brain to," she says.

After spending so much time to place herself through Southern University in New Orleans, Provost attended night school to get her MBA. A couple of years later, after doing work for several companies, including a clinical laboratory, she mortgaged rental property she owned to start out her own clinical lab. For a couple of years, she held down another job teaching phlebotomy until she’d built her business to the main point where she could stop teaching and begin working at the business enterprise regular, a leap of faith that ended up being well-founded.

Incorporated in 2001, Lab Site Inc. was situated near commercial establishments on the next floor of an workplace near Memorial INFIRMARY in the heart of New Orleans. Provost devote a draw room, an individual waiting area, a testing area, a processing room, an individual lavatory and a break room. Her equipment included expensive hematology machines and analyzers, an industry-specific computer plus desktop computers for tracking and billing. The tiny firm employed a team of six employees, including phlebotomists, billing clerks and medical technicians. Not to mention, Provost herself was there as both owner and manager, driving sales and making sure standards were kept high. "I wore several hats as we grew," she recalls.

As who owns small businesses, she could focus on things small businesses could do best–those calling for flexibility and quick turnaround. "If a nursing home called us after midnight and said they needed blood cultures times two, we’d go. We’d draw it, test drive it and report everything within a day, and we wouldn’t charge physicians ‘stat’ fees for carrying it out quickly. Lab Site was known to be responsive–we’d do things the large companies wouldn’t do–and we’d a reputation," Provost says. "Our niche was service."

That, along with her personable demeanor, earned her a reliable following of customers, including drug screenings for the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office. The business was setup for reimbursement with major insurers such as for example Medicaid, Medicare, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, UnitedHealthCare and Aetna. "We served doctors from the South Shore and the North Shore," says Provost. "That bridge that was split into little pieces by Katrina? We’d to cross that bridge many times a day."

An focus on following through won her an area in a David and Goliath marketplace, competing toe-to-toe with large labs like Quest and Labcorp. Quality needed to be strictly top priority, since it was a main feature. When Katrina hit, Lab Site Inc. had just passed inspection with top ratings. "We were very pleased with that," she says.

Provost was making her mark as a business owner, with revenues likely to hit $500,000 this season. She had put five years of serious sweat equity in to the business. "I don’t believe there’s anything [like] overnight success–not in my own business, anyway," she says with a rueful grin. "We were just recovering from that hump, and came Katrina."

As polluted seawater came flooding in over the broken levees, Lab Site Inc. was the Provost family’s last holdout, the ultimate place of refuge on her behalf extended family. They’d evacuated their Orleans Parish homes in the low Ninth Ward, hoping the waters would subside. No such luck, emergency officials told them grimly. "They told us to leave and we left," Provost recalls. "Whenever we left, water was to arrive on underneath floor."

Seven days later, safe on the bigger terrain of North Central Texas and getting ready to move into a flat payed for by FEMA, Provost could only wonder if the waters had risen to the business’s second floor, where all of the lab’s delicate equipment was located and where August invoices waited to be delivered to clients who’ve relocated to who knows where for revenue needed now as part of your.

"I wish to get there prior to the bulldozers do," she says. "Our concern is that folks might vandalize or tamper with the gear." She was told that later this week, she may have an opportunity to go back to New Orleans for just two hours to assess damage and grab business materials. "I am hoping my equipment’s OK–if it isn’t, then we’re just devastated and it will put us back a decade in my own little business."

With immediate needs for food and shelter met, Provost is merely one of many a large number of Gulf Coast entrepreneurs weighing business options against unknowns. "I’m considering relocating nearly all our operations and just keeping a draw center in New Orleans, separate from the lab," she says "If the hospitals get right up and running with physicians, that’s a very important factor, but if Tenet [Healthcare Corp.] doesn’t reopen that hospital, there is nothing for me to accomplish there. If the people don’t get back to New Orleans, there is no work. And if my employees don’t keep coming back, there’ll be nobody to do the task.

"I understand that physicians’ assets are their abilities to see patients. They are able to do this anywhere–they can go and go out their shingle where in fact the people are–and I really believe we can do this, too," says Provost. "We’re hoping to start out up within Texas, either in Houston or Dallas, because I really believe that where we were will be desolate for a long time."

Jackie Larson is a freelance writer in Ennis, Texas.

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