Uptown Eye Care in Monticello, Minnesota, has gone through a whirlwind of changes in the past two years. Practice founder Elaine Happ, OD, retired in 2022, passing the torch over to her partner, Mary Gregory, OD, ABO, FCOVD. In October 2022, the practice celebrated its 25th anniversary after a summer of renovation and expansion of the office space from 4,000 to 6,500 square feet. There’s lots of room to make their patients and doctors comfortable now, as well as accommodate future growth, thanks to the practice remodel.
It had been an exciting journey since Dr. Gregory joined the practice in 2002; after working as an associate for five years, she bought into the practice 25 percent in 2007 and another 25 percent in 2012. “Elaine encouraged me to find my specialty to build up my part of the practice, and I was interested in pediatrics and focusing on that area at Uptown,” Dr. Gregory recalls. Also, in 2011, Dr. Gregory took the leap to open a specialty office, Omni Vision & Learning Center, to pursue her passion for vision therapy (VT) after pursuing her fellowship with the College of Vision Development.
Uptown Eye Care grew over the years with the addition of associate doctors, and the physical space has had several remodels. “We were getting busier and outgrowing the space but didn’t want to move locations and we couldn’t expand.” The most recent renovation in 2017 refreshed the space and made some updates to be more efficient with what the space that they had, and Dr. Gregory says that held them over for five years. “We knew it was time to expand when we had a wait list that was months out,” Dr. Gregory recalls. “It felt like we were still in our starter home.”
RIGHT TIMING FOR OFFICE EXPANSION
Then, a large business closed next door in 2020, allowing Dr. Gregory to move Omni Vision & Learning Center from across town to next to Uptown Eye Care in 2021. That left them with 2,500 square feet between the two offices—perfect for an office expansion. Dr. Happ decided to move up her retirement about six months so that she didn’t have to invest in the expansion as she was preparing to exit, and the sale of the practice helped fund the remodel. The result would be a much more efficient patient flow and a more comfortable space for both patients and staff.
Since Dr. Gregory had just relocated her vision therapy practice, it offered a unique opportunity to move Uptown Eye Care to a temporary location instead of working through the remodel. “The construction crew could demolish and start over, and it moved things along a lot faster,” she says. The doors closed for renovation at the end of March 2022, and they were able to reopen until early September in the former home of Omni Vision & Learning Center.
The color scheme remained the same with the renovations, but there was a transformation from the urban style they most recently had to make the vibe a bit homier and more comfortable. “I wanted it to be a place where it’s ok if you have to wait a bit, and our waiting area feels like a living room with a fireplace, TV, couches and a full coffee station.”
EXPANSION FOR FUTURE EFFICIENCY
Previously, the office space had patients going up and down one hallway as they entered and exited their exam. Now the office has a semi-circle design moving through to pretesting and specialty testing before going into exam rooms. There’s more room to dedicate time and space to treatment and equipment for dry eye, myopia and disease management; they upgraded their OCT, as well as buy a new retinal camera and Myopia Master with the expansion.
They also expanded from four exam lanes to six, so there’s also new exam room instrumentation such as upgraded cameras built into the slit and projection technology for patient education. It’s been a learning curve, she says, adjusting to the new technology in a new space, but it’s worth it when patients comment about the new experience.
One issue in the old space was the transfer of noise from different areas of the office, so now every wall is built to the top of the building and insulated all the way. “We were not completely soundproof in the other space, and this extra detail has been wonderful,” she says.
FOCUS ON KIDS
Dr. Gregory and associate Miranda Lepinski, OD, FCOVD, specialize in pediatric and brain injury, so it was essential to create a special waiting area just for kids where the children could be loud and get their energy out without interrupting the peaceful atmosphere in the rest of the office. There’s a glassed-in area with comfortable chairs outside for parents so that they can keep an eye on their kids. “We’ve received so many compliments about this area, because it can be challenging to come in with the whole family and small kids. We wanted it to be stress-free and make them feel welcome.”
The former space incorporated artwork from a local graffiti artist, and Dr. Gregory says that she wanted to tap into the local art scene again with this remodel. Another local artist created several murals in the space, behind the dispensing station and also in the children’s area.
The addition of two more exam lanes allowed them to create two pediatric rooms. Each has its own theme and is slightly larger than their typical exam rooms. One is a jungle room with a car for kids and seating for the whole family, and the second is all about the sea with a big boat for kids to get in and play. “When the kids are entertained, they aren’t grabbing our equipment and parents don’t have to tell them ‘no’ the whole time,” Dr. Gregory says.
EXPANSION RUNS SMOOTHLY
Overall, Dr. Gregory says that the process was quite smooth. There were delays from shortages of professionals to get the work done, such as small painting crews, as well as waiting on products to arrive. “The biggest delay was getting the furniture in because the carpenter couldn’t come in until the floors were finished,” she recalls. “We thought we had built in extra time, but our front desk was installed just an hour before our first patient came in. We were planning to greet her at a conference table, but the computer was hooked up just in time,” Dr. Gregory adds, laughing.
The office space is now set up to better handle their patients, as well be more prepared for future transitions. Dr. Gregory looks forward to adding a partner in the future who can buy into the practice in a similar fashion as her arrangement with Dr. Happ.
The response has been extremely positive, and patients are constantly commenting about how comfortable and relaxing the space feels. “That feels good, because that’s what we were going for,” she says. “The doctors are a little jealous because the staff gets to sit out in the optical and watch everyone’s reaction all day.” And if there’s ever snag in the schedule with a bit of a delay, adults and kids alike are enjoying the environment where they’re spending a few extra minutes. “We are thankful for those comments.”
Check out a brief video from the grand re-opening event!