When illness strikes: How a risk management plan for your accounting practice pays off

The risk management plan Ron Flood CPA devised years earlier provided business continuity while he underwent cancer treatment.

Ron Flood CPA, a public practitioner, successfully battled cancer while keeping his practice afloat. Learn how having a risk management plan helped.

In early 2017, Ron Flood CPA developed what he thought were the symptoms of the common cold: general fatigue, a few aches and pains and a sore throat. The cold never materialised but the sore throat persisted. Blood test results showed an irregularity and a follow-up PET scan revealed what Flood describes as a “horrific situation”.

“I had cancer in my throat, in both lungs, in my liver, in my sternum and my spine,” says the 68-year-old sole practitioner from Palm Cove in Queensland. 

“I’d had had melanoma removed from my shoulder in 2004, which had spread into my glands. The cancer was pretty much everywhere and I knew where I was headed. I got ready to say goodbye to the world.”

A revolutionary response

Miraculously, Flood’s farewell proved to be premature. After signing up to a trial of a new-generation of cancer drugs, he is now cancer free and has returned to work as a semi-retired practitioner with three long-term customers on his books. 

The risk management plan he had devised years earlier provided business continuity while he underwent treatment, and the new cancer drugs have given him a second chance at life.

After his diagnosis, doctors expected Flood to live for just six months and began treating the tumours in his throat with radiation therapy. The pain medication Flood was taking initially made him ineligible for the clinical trial, however the drugs’ developer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, gave oncologists at Cairns hospital permission to include him.

Flood received a combination of two drugs – Opdivo and Yervoy – through intravenous therapy over a several months. While traditional cancer treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy attack both the cancer and the body, the new drugs are part of a revolutionary immuno-oncology treatment designed to boost the body’s defences.

They help the body to fight off the disease by targeting the same immune pathways that tumour cells use to evade eradication.

“I sat on a couch and received the medication intravenously,” says Flood.

“It doesn't target cancer; what it does is give my immune system the ability to find the cancer, eradicate it and then repair any damage that’s been done. It’s almost beyond comprehension.”

A risk management plan for his public practice

After receiving what Flood describes as his “death sentence”, he enacted his risk management plan. He had developed relationships with two other accountants who would take over his work if he was incapacitated.

“I’d written summary documents about my customers and had briefed the accountants who would take over,” says Flood.

“I’d also explained to my customers the plan if anything were to happen to me. I basically followed the CPA Australia risk management plan.”

ATO assistant commissioner Colin Walker emphasises the value of working with a professional association to develop such as plan.

“The ATO also offers practitioners support if they are experiencing physical or mental illness,” he says. (See ATO Resources, below.)

“It’s important that they contact us as soon as possible so we can devise the best way to help them.”

Walker says support may come in many forms. “There’s no one-size-fits-all approach because we need to ascertain an individual’s requirements.”

Support may include lodgement deferrals, suspending compliance action or developing a managed lodgement program to helping practitioners to prioritise their outstanding and upcoming obligations.

The ATO also offers a complex issues resolution service for registered agents who require assistance with complicated administrative issues or tax technical interpretation queries. It aims to resolve issues within five working days.

“Not enough practitioners are coming to us for help,” says Wilson.

“They think they can get through it on their own but there’s a lot that we can do to take the pressure off and we have an important role to play.”

Fighting fit

Throughout the drug trial, Flood says he was “pretty much an invalid” due to side effects of the treatment. 

“My attitude was that I had nothing to lose and I thought, ‘do what you want’, but I’d lost 40kg and had reached a stage where they thought the treatment was too strong for me and they pulled me off the program.”

However, test results showed that Flood was responding to the drugs. The tumours were shrinking and, when he came off the program in November 2017, there was only one tumour visible in a PET scan.

“Three months later, there were none,” says Flood. “I have PET scans every three months and there is absolutely no cancer in my body.”

Flood returned to work at the beginning of 2018 and describes it as a “revelation”.

“The risk management plan worked, and I was able to pick up where I left off,” he says.

Cancer patients like Flood now access Opdivo and Yervoy, which are two of five new cancer medications listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) in November last year. 

Patients with forms of leukaemia, advanced intestinal and pancreatic tumours, melanomas, bowel cancer and ovarian cancer are expected to benefit from these new listings, paying $39.50 per script, instead of up to $30,000 a year. The PBS listing represents the first time a combination immuno-oncology treatment has been reimbursed by the Federal Government.

“I have to emphasise how revolutionary this is as a cancer treatment,” says Flood.

“The only damage done to my body is that I’ve totally lost hearing in my right ear, but that was because of the radiation therapy. Physically, I feel as though the cancer was never there.”

ATO resources

Supporting taxpayers’ wellbeing

Small business owners experiencing mental health issues

Information for tax and BAS agents

Help with your lodgment program

Podcast: TaxInVoice episode 8 – Mental health support

Complex issues resolution

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