Source: Dr Paul Giotopoulos of Quaker Ridge Dental
The staggering job losses mark a 53% drop in dental office employment over two months. All dental offices nationwide, except 3%, were closed with the exception of emergency appointments last month, according to the American Dental Association, and nearly 9 in 10 have laid off staff.
Most jobs could return online in the next few weeks. The first week of May saw almost half of dental offices bring workers back, according to the ADA.
“This week, 28 states have reopened … in these states, we find that 48% of dentists have fully rehired their staff, which is a significant jump from two weeks ago,” said Marko Vujicic, chief economist from the ADA.
Dr. Paul Giotopoulos and his partners in New Rochelle, New York, put a dozen employees on leave last month. They will bring them back next week, with the moratorium on routine dental care due to be lifted on May 15.e in the state.
It will be anything but the status quo.
“We are going to be doing a lot of different things – removing seats from the waiting room … we have erected barriers for receptionists at reception,” as well as screening patients for Covid symptoms, said Giotopoulos.
Security protocols, a challenge
For many practices, one of the biggest challenges for a full ramp-up is to find enough personal protective equipment for their personnel. The other is trying to control the spread of aerosols from patients that occur during dental procedures.
“Aerosols are created when we use our drills or our ultrasonic tools. If you’ve ever had your hygienist cleaned – it creates an aerosol and the aerosol spills all over the office, “Giotopoulos said in the air.
The dental offices that resumed their services this month are seeing about a quarter of their usual patient volumes, to maintain safe practices. At the same time, they face higher costs due to new security protocols to protect themselves and their patients.
“Protocols like patient spacing – and even some states require exam rooms to be left vacant so aerosols can settle – all of this will reduce productivity and increase variable costs for dental offices” said Vujicic. “This is not a constraint on reopening, but it will certainly affect profitability and depends on … who bears the cost of this increase in PPE spending. “
The ADA asked Congress to provide tax credits to dental offices in the next round of funding for coronaviruses, to help cover the rising costs of PPE.
Unemployment facing the wind
After the 2008 financial crisis, while other service sectors lost mass jobs, hiring in health care has steadily increased. But the sharp rise in unemployment poses a headwind for claimants who are trying to resume their practices.
Millions of Americans who have lost their jobs can qualify for health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Law Exchange or the Medicaid Safety Net Program, which could provide coverage to doctors and hospitals. But dental coverage is generally separate from insurance for medical care.
“We are going to be faced with a double problem … the disease itself and now you have people who cannot pay. They don’t have a job, “said Giotopoulos. “I don’t think we really understand the scope of that at the moment, and it’s something we’re going to have to go through. “