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Demand for Services Up at Dental Clinics

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Monday, November 2, 2020   

DENVER -- Colorado's community dental clinics are open again, after a brief closure due to an executive order by Gov. Jared Polis in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and demand for services is high.

An Nguyen, chief dental officer at Clinica Family Health, said the downtime allowed the state's safety-net facilities to secure enough personal protective equipment, and make changes to ensure the safety of patients and staff.

Since social distancing is impossible during most procedures, clinics invested in technologies that recirculates air about every 6 minutes, using HEPA filtration and ionization to capture and remove bio-aerosols, and high-vacuum suction units.

"So essentially what happens is it keeps the air contained in one area, treats it before it has a chance to move to other spaces, which is really crucial when you have people moving in and out of a small space," Nguyen explained.

Most staff that were laid off or furloughed are also back, with some taking on different roles.

Some now screen patients before and during visits, others are 'runners' who move between rooms so other staff can stay in place.

Nguyen said all patients and staff get a temperature reading before entering the clinic, and must clear a COVID screening.

Erin Major, chief dental officer at Summit Community Care Clinic said workers wear N95 masks, covered by a Level 3 mask, and face shields during appointments.

She added when they were able to reopen, she was surprised that people were clamoring for services even if they weren't in pain. She said Summit has been booked solid since June, and staff are going above and beyond to ensure that everyone who needs care can get it.

"But we're doing our best, we're booked out about six weeks now," Major noted. "We can still get patients in, and we do, we have a commitment to seeing all patients that are in pain. So we do have openings every day for immediate and acute appointments."

Nguyen said while the closures created short- and long-term challenges, there was a silver lining. In addition to fast-tracking innovations such as tele-dentistry, and redesigning spaces and workflows, the pause allowed clinics to step back and focus on what was most important and in sync with their values.

"Our response to the pandemic has been ensuring safety for our patients and staff, and bringing our staff back to work," Nguyen stated. "Because without great, highly skilled staff, it is really hard for us to continue to provide the kind of high-quality access that we're known for."


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