I am the CEO of the largest dental services organization (DSO) in New York and am writing this from the heart of the COVID-19 hot zone. We have almost 50 dental offices here, most in retail locations throughout New York City and Long Island, the epicenter of the virus.
Given our location, I feel that our COVID-19 experience can be instructive for DSOs across the country that are concerned about what will happen if their region also sees an outbreak and provide insight on how they can prepare for what steps they may need to take.
First of all, the lights may go out much faster than expected. One day we were operating almost 50 busy offices. The next day, New York ordered all non-essential services closed. That brought all routine hygiene or elective procedures to a halt. Currently, 12 offices remain open, only for emergency procedures.
So, what did we do? We immediately went into triage mode. In order to survive and take care of our patients during the COVID-19 crisis, we had to take drastic steps.
As painful as it was, we were forced to furlough many employees quickly. This was a very difficult and emotionally wrenching process, as our employees are also our friends, our colleagues, and the lifeblood of our company.
Fortunately, the passing of the stimulus package has allowed for additional generous unemployment benefits to help during the pandemic, after which time, we hope to have our family fully reunited.
Keeping People Safe
Dental365 has always been one of the safest dental practices in terms of cleanliness and sanitization. We continue to be diligent with stringent infection control processes and have implemented social distancing by having patients wait in vehicles (if applicable) until our operatories are cleaned and they are ready to be seen.
Prior to each shift, we take and record our staff members’ temperatures to ensure only healthy personnel are treating dental emergencies. Upon entry, patients’ temperatures are also taken, and they are guided to the nearest handwashing station and are instructed to rinse with peroxide or Listerine prior to their emergency exams and treatment.
In addition, we have always had great relationships with our vendors and have been provided with updates when new personal protective equipment (PPE) becomes available. Our staff has kept accurate counts and logs of all PPE equipment and follows protocols on items that can be reused and sanitized.
There are designated clean and secure spaces, so PPE isn’t taken off premises, mitigating any risk of contamination outside of the office. With the temporary closing of most of our offices, we have also been able to move any necessary supplies to offices in urgent need of PPE for emergency dental care.
Enlisting a Team of Dedicated Providers
We are fortunate enough to have an incredible team of dentists and staff who have selflessly dedicated their expertise to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I am forever grateful to those providers who have risked their health and stayed on the frontlines. Their efforts have helped keep people out of emergency rooms, preserving precious resources for those in need of critical care.
Every day, we have many people in pain reaching out for appointments, and they too have been incredibly grateful. Some patients travel hours to be seen in one of our offices.
We reached out to our landlords by phone to discuss the pressures on our business and how we can work together to alleviate near-term pressure. Our landlords were almost uniformly cooperative, helping us via partial abatements and creative deferrals.
Messaging to Our Patients
In addition to rescheduling hygiene and elective appointments, it was critical that our patients knew they could still count on us. We set up email campaigns and regular communications to ensure they knew we continued to be here for emergencies. We also had multiple methods of communication, including webchat and text messaging capabilities that were monitored around the clock.
Team Communication Is Critical
We are actively engaging with our dentists, hygienists, and support staff (active and furloughed) throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. When information becomes available, we are transparent and forthcoming with information that would be valuable to them. We have weekly and sometimes daily calls to communicate the newest updates and ensure that all team members are aware of the latest happenings.
We’re staying on top of information that becomes available from not only the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the ADA, but also government officials. By doing so, we made applying for CARES Act support a critical priority and were among the first businesses to apply.
Fortunately, we have been conservative with our balance sheet and have a modest level of debt. We prepared forecasts and proactively reached out to our lender to share the steps we were taking and provide our business outlook. We were told that we were the first borrower it had heard from, and our proactiveness set the tone for a very productive discussion and positive outcome.
I would like to thank my partners at Regal Healthcare Capital Partners for great advice while going through this process. I have truly been inspired by them and our Dental365 family’s commitment to our patients and communities.
Working with dedicated colleagues and staff during this pandemic has been life-changing. We are so grateful for the expressions of gratitude from our patients for being available to them in their time of need. Working under these challenging circumstances is very difficult but very gratifying at the same time.
I hope the COVID-19 pandemic quickly becomes a distant memory. But if you land in the same position as we are here in New York due to this virus, some of the steps we have taken may help you get past the difficult times. I am confident that we will come out of the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than ever.
Dr. Asnis is the founder and CEO of Dental365. He graduated from the New York University College of Dentistry and completed a general practice residency at the Brooklyn Veterans Administration Hospital. He is a successful and award-winning cosmetic dentist with 35 years of experience in private practice. Also, he is the founder of Dental365 University and Dental365 Sleep.
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