Many businesses and shops had to close in mid-March because of the pandemic, but many offices in the medical field remained open for necessary care.
ProHealth Dental in Huntington remained open for emergency dental visits.
The Huntington office used more virtual technology to see patients, relying on telemedicine to connect with patients, using Zoom or Skype when needed. Patients who needed care were directed to an office open for emergencies and the necessary precautions were taken.
Dr. Richard Rongo, DDS, a partner dentist at ProHealth Dental’s Huntington location, said he didn’t see changes made because of the epidemic going away anytime soon.
During the height of the epidemic, non-emergency patients were turned away as their priority were those most in need. In limiting the number of patients seen and halting elective procedures, they limited possible exposure. Now, they are getting much busier with patients getting back into routine checkups. “Patients see the precautions we are taking and get more comfortable,” Rongo said.
Being open again for routine appointments, they have made changes to ensure safety for everyone in the office. Many patients were hesitant to return but overcame their fears. Both patients and staff wear masks and are temperature checked upon entering the building; they also answer a questionnaire about their health, recent travel history and if they have interacted with anyone with Coivd-19. Hand sanitizer is available for everyone in the office at all times.
Staff is dressed in disposable masks, gloves and jackets, Rongo noted that the extra PPE has not made their job any easier. “Extra protective gear can hinder us as dentists. The practitioners are those most as risk. So we are trying to minimize that,” he said. High-grade surgical masks and face shields alongside their usual protective equipment has made a normal checkup more difficult. Both the staff and patients needed to adjust to the new normal.
They have altered their hours to allow for extra time to disinfect all elements of the office as well as allowing for social distancing among patients. The upside of having a large office is they are able to disinfect a room, leave and go to another room to allow for the disinfectant to take effect.
ProHealth Dental asks patients to wait until they receive a text or call that the office is ready for their appointment to assure a socially distant office. Patients are asked to come into the office alone unless they are in need of an escort. From pens to counters and exam rooms, everything is wiped down, sanitized and disinfected. The staggering of appointments allows them extra time to do so.
Rongo noted that they faced countless hurdles in handling the virus while seeing patients. “The biggest challenge is allaying patients fears… patients need their routine dental care and it’s okay to take their mask off for it,” he said. “Being that people are so regimented about masks all the time, it’s a strange feeling for them to take it off,” he said.
The Huntington office was able to install a high volume high efficiency particulate air or HEPA filter. The system continuously filters the office air to help prevent the spread of germs. The new technology is a lot to keep up with, but it helps minimize cross contamination. “Based on guidelines given by the American Dental Association and the CDC, we’re going above and beyond the recommendations,” Rongo said.
Rongo believes that this pandemic will change dentistry going forward. He began his career in the 1980’s during the AIDS epidemic and notes how much that changed the way dentistry was practiced. “We had to treat everyone like they had it to be safe. Dentistry went from what I call ‘wet finger dentistry’ to wearing masks, gloves and gowns,” he said. “Dentistry was forever changed.”
He concluded, “Though there’s still a lot we don’t know, we have a better handle on it than we did in the beginning. We do know that we are dedicated to our patients.”
One of a series about how Huntington businesses are coping with the changes brought about by the Covid-19 epidemic.