Hitting the pause, reset buttons during COVID-19

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Photo of Drs. Jenkins and Spurlock

Drs. Jenkins and Spurlock

When COVID-19 emerged as a global threat, we learned very quickly that now is not the time to sit back and wait for direction but to use our own resources and internal compasses to guide us in making difficult decisions.

We realized we were all learning as we go, so to speak.

There was no time to gather data, formulate research, and evaluate peer reviewed studies because these things do take time and with the rampant case numbers, we just did not have time to wait.

We wrestled with how to serve our patients and team in a time with so many uncertainties and were desperate for guidance and leadership about how to defend ourselves against this threat, remain open to serve and care for our patients and how to be safe in this environment.  As we awaited clarity and guidance, we became keenly aware that our governing bodies, the board of dentistry, the ADA and even the CDC were in a similar position as we were, with the knowledge of this new virus and the spread, but inadequate research or definitive answers about how to proceed.

Once we arrived at this conclusion, we knew what we needed to do — push pause to gather and review research so we could establish protocols to safely treat patients while prioritizing the health and safety of our team. We knew we could not do this while continuing to see patients at the same capacity and we could not make our PPE available to those on the front lines treating COVID-19 if we continued to utilize those supplies ourselves.

Our “pause” in effect became a reset. This break allowed us first to focus on what we could do while we determined how to get back to doing what we love, which is serve our community by providing integrative oral health care and a caring, supportive work environment in which to employ our team.

We needed to pivot, so we prayerfully asked ourselves these questions: how can we continue to fulfill our mission, has our mission changed, and how can we come back stronger?

We immediately recognized our mission to care for our patients is equal to our mission to care for our team. We cannot do one without the other. We understood that while we needed to furlough our team, we could do so with compassion and provide them with as much support and resources as possible. We began researching how to apply for unemployment benefits and provided our team members with help sheets which included detailed information on how to apply for unemployment and offered our office facilities to complete such tasks by phone, fax and email as needed. We established our office manager as the point person for questions regarding filing for unemployment and were available ourselves, as well. We communicated with our team utilizing the GroupMe app, Zoom meetings, phone calls and texts. We sent encouraging notes, personal financial recommendations, quotes and messages letting them know how much we care.  We continued to recognize birthdays, staff appreciation days and weeks — even though we in the most technical sense no longer had a “staff.”

Once we felt as though we had a grasp on how to care for and support our team, we put our focus on how to maintain our business. Our number one core value, “We believe our work is important” spurred us onward as we knew then and continue to believe dentistry is essential to maintaining overall health and well-being. We utilized the support from our financial planners, accountants and bankers and formulated a plan to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), reduce our extra expenses, and defer payments as needed so we could stay afloat.

With finances in some semblance of order, we began researching everything we could pertaining to COVID-19 – reading every article that we could find about the modes of transmission of COVID-19 and watching every possible webinar on the subject. We also spoke to our trusted colleagues throughout the country, specifically those in areas which were most affected, like Seattle, Washington, and we were able to put together an action list. We shared our list among ourselves and began diligently working toward fulfillment. We also took the opportunity to contact colleagues and friends from the medical community and requested information our local hospital was sharing with their teams to provide proper protection while treating known COVID-19 cases.

From this information we gathered, we made a purchase and procurement list. We reached out first to our local supply representative and company; they supported us with what they could provide, but it was evident they were faced with a challenge themselves in securing the quantity of supplies they needed to supply their customer base. We determined it would be beneficial to also source items ourselves as we would not be faced with the same delays as a giant supply company would in trying to supply our small (by comparison) dental practice. We contacted medical clinics and the local university as well as the governor’s office to make a comprehensive list of sources for PPE, as well as the other supplies we needed to return to work.

We were able to effectively source our supplies from a variety of places and began sharing our success on social media, offering support to others who were also trying to fulfill their orders.

Almost simultaneously, as we were reaching out to support our profession, we were made aware by our team and through social media forums of the concerns and reservations many members of the hygiene community specifically were having about a safe return to work — how, if and when that would be possible.

We were caught off guard by the suggestion that dental professionals would not all want to be as safe as possible, disregarding the safety of their patients and team for the allure of profits. We checked our egos and responded with empathy and compassion, making sure to communicate exactly what our efforts had been with our team and community and continued to be vocal about how we could serve other members of our profession with their efforts.

With full disclosure, we did move forward without a team member who was concerned about the pathogen risk despite our efforts and a 43-year veteran who took this time to retire six months earlier than she planned prior to the pandemic.

In spite of these unforeseen changes to our team, we are very proud of our response and the actions we took to for our team and patients. The “pause” gave us some unexpected time to hone in on our goals, reduce additional expenses and get clear on what is really important. We are stronger together because of this reset and hope to be able to continue to lead our team, serve our patients, profession and community with even more compassion, grace, gratitude and empathy than ever before.

Drs. Sara K. Spurlock & Jennifer M. Jenkins are graduates from the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry. Together they own Dental Design Studio in Norman, Oklahoma in the heart of Sooner country. They are committed to advancing their practice and profession through continuing education. They attend the Kois curriculum and Spear education center for continuing education multiple times annually and participate and serve on the advisory board for their local Seattle Study Club. Both doctors have served at the Mission of Mercy and will serve as triage leads in 2021. In addition to serving their profession and community both doctors enjoy raising their families, attending sporting and music events, church and being health focused—enjoying time outdoors, good food and nutrition and exercise.

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