Open Door’s three dental centers in Fortuna, Eureka, and Crescent City were used to seeing a steady stream of patients in their waiting rooms. Between 7 am and 5 pm each day, the dental teams and their support staff at Burre Dental Center, in Eureka, would see 150 patients, for cleanings, routine procedures, and emergencies.
“When COVID-19 hit the North Coast and shelter in place orders came into effect, we had to cancel over 7,000 appointments for routine dental care.” said Dr. Carter Wright, Open Door’s Dental Director, who is also a dentist at Burre Dental Center. “Like a lot of private practices, we could not carry out a lot of procedures. It wasn’t safe for the patients or for the staff.”
“Unless it was an emergency, we couldn’t perform any restorative procedures, like fillings,” said Samantha Hani, the Site Administrator at Burre Dental Center. “Our patients’ health—not just their oral health—is our highest priority. When we were struggling to get basic PPE, anything that could aerosolize particles from a patient’s mouth (like our drills) were deemed too risky to use; we couldn’t see those patients.”
Open Door has pivoted many services to telephone and video care—behavioral health, case management, and even routine medical services were adapted for the new reality—but dental care was a much harder challenge to deliver remotely. Faced with the high risk to staff and patients, and without 70% of their day-to-day visits, clinics was forced to curtail services and some clinic staff went on temporary unemployment benefits, until regular business could resume.
However, much of the dental teams stayed on, continuing to perform only the most critical procedures for patients. “The team took almost no time off for eight months,” says Sam Hani, Burre Dental Clinic’s Site Administrator, echoes the same point. “It was tough, but we became an even more tightly-knit family.”
“If our dental teams hadn’t shown such bravery and dedication, lots of people in our community would have gone without emergency dental care during the pandemic,” says Sarah Ross, the director for Open Door’s Southern Region, which includes Eureka and Fortuna. “These patients would have had no choice but to go to the emergency room or suffer in pain.”
Over the course of the pandemic, Open Door has worked hard to keep staff safe, while increasing access to care at its dental clinics. Purchasing new, vital personal protective equipment (PPE) and carrying out upgrades to facilities (such as retrofitting Burre Dental Center’s HVAC system) has allowed Open Door’s dental services in Crescent City, Eureka, and Fortuna, to fully resume.
With services returning, so have the dental staff, including three new dentists, two dental residents and several dental student externs. Open Door dentists and hygienists are now seeing about 120 patients each day, for restorative and preventative care, in addition to emergency services.
“It really is an honor and a pleasure to work with our dental teams,” says Dr. Wright. “They rise to the occasion again and again. Bravo!”