Every single one of us has a story to tell regarding the cost of COVID in a dental practice.
This is mine.
How it all started
The day I found out we had to shut our dental office down due to the governor’s Stay at Home Proclamation, I never fathomed the cost or the toll it would take on our practice.
Everyone thought about financial ramifications. However, as time progressed, I found out quickly that the cost of COVID was far more reaching than just the financial viability of our dental business.
The doctors and I struggled to quickly figure out a game plan to navigate the uncertain future.
Do we put everyone on standby? Do we pay out accrued sick and vacation time? What about our patients? How much does it cost to keep the lights on every month? Can the doctors continue to take a salary?
The questions were never-ending.
Putting employees on unemployment
I found myself hanging on to every word of expert advice that came from Paul Edwards and the HR Base Camp.
After much deliberation with the doctors, we did put all of our staff members on standby unemployment with the exception of myself.
I felt somewhat helpless to offer clear instructions to team members during their application for unemployment.
I cannot overemphasize the value of AADOM and CEDR during this difficult time.
Staying in contact
Another concern surrounding the team being laid off was how were we to interact with them appropriately?
If we had regular zoom meetings, did we need to pay them? Does that interfere with their unemployment?
The unemployment system was overwhelmed, many team members were not receiving any compensation, and we did not want to complicate the process further.
Unfortunately, the end result was a lack of communication.
In hindsight, we should have made the team members more aware of what the doctors and I were trying to accomplish.
We were so busy with daily webinars to try and stay on top of the ever-changing rules and regulations that we never felt like we had concrete answers to provide them, nor did it occur to us that they would actually want to be a part of the daily details.
Working alone added to the uncertainty and building pressure.
I missed the other team members. I missed the camaraderie and the ability to bounce ideas off each other. I felt bad calling them, even to simply discuss things because it seemed unfair since they were laid off at the time.
It was extremely isolating.
On the bright side, I was exceedingly busy, and it kept the news and negativity surrounding COVID at bay.
Applications and processes
Every day was full of webinars and applying to obtain small business grants, a business line of credit, and loans.
In addition to learning about the PPP loan, we were trying to keep up with OSHA and ADA requirements for reopening and what kind of personal protective equipment (PPE) we would need to order.
The stress of trying to find and then purchase approved PPE was unimaginable. FEMA was confiscating all orders of PPE upon arrival in the U.S. to give priority to hospitals.
Another concern was trying to collect outstanding balances from patients who were also out of work and under financial strain.
Some insurance companies were not even making payments. Their offices were running skeleton crews as well, and the insurance payments slowed to a trickle.
A bright spot was the membership club we had instituted a few years before, as we appreciated the cash infusion during these lean times!
We spent days on the confusing application process for a first-round PPP loan but to no avail.
This caused sleepless nights for all involved, especially the doctors, as this loan seemed like our only hope to restore the financial viability of the practice.
Their families took 100% pay cuts! The anxiety was building for everyone.
The first time I really understood the toll it was taking on everyone was while speaking with my longtime friend, who happens to be one of our hygienists.
We were discussing the difficulty of getting PPE, and I stated that I ordered KN95 masks. She immediately went on the offensive. The fear she had surrounding her safety working as a hygienist was now in direct conflict with my pursuit of ordering the N95 alternatives.
Suddenly the very discussion of PPE had become polarizing.
This was just the beginning of the great divide between the doctors, myself, and the hygiene team.
As we moved closer to the reopening of the practice, the pressure only intensified.
As we were reaching out to the team members, it became increasingly clearer that the hygiene department was fearful of their safety surrounding aerosols and the unknown risk of catching and spreading COVID.
It felt like we were on two different sides.
We quickly learned that all parties were taking away a different perspective from the information we were being inundated with. By this point in time, it didn’t matter that we had all the required PPE and were meeting and/or exceeding the necessary safety protocols.
This was a multifaceted problem.
We were preparing to reopen the hygiene department on June 1st, but none of the hygienists were ready to return to work.
So not only could we not reschedule the 1,800 canceled hygiene appointments, but additionally, we realized that even though we were able to obtain a PPP loan, we were now faced with the reality that we may not have the ability to utilize it for forgiveness if our full team was not going to return.
We did our best to reach out to all of the team members individually by phone and email to listen to their thoughts, ideas, and concerns.
We even had a Zoom meeting with the entire staff led by a physician who was head of an active COVID-19 hospital unit, where he provided sound and up to date science-based research in an effort to ease anxieties about returning to work in a health care setting while using proper PPE and protocols.
This had a positive effect on the front desk team and the assistants but seemed to leave the hygienists more upset because the information didn’t match up with what they were learning from their hygiene associations.
Unfortunately, it was too late. The divide had already taken hold.
The impact of COVID-19
The effects of this pandemic have resulted in the attrition of two hygienists, a nearly broken friendship, and the loss of nearly half of a million dollars in production.
Though we are so grateful for the ability to reopen and for the health and safety of our team and patients, we are far from unscathed from this virus.
Only time will tell the true cost of COVID to our dental practice.
Although the future is uncertain, I am certain that times like this are good for reminding us of the small and simple things for which we can and should be grateful; health, AADOM, CEDR Solutions, membership clubs, well written OSHA handbooks, and, last but not least, supportive doctors willing to do whatever it takes to both keep the team employed and ensure safety to everyone that enters the office.
Meet the Author
Before transitioning into the dental industry in 2008, Tammy Gemmer spent several years in the healthcare field as a medical transcriptionist.
After becoming a dental receptionist, she moved up to financial coordinator, and within three years, she became a dental office manager.
Nearly two decades later, Tammy is still passionately advancing her career through AADOM. She currently holds fellowship status and is working toward her masters.