Dental offices reopening: Heroes work here!

Have you seen the signs thanking heroes emerging during the COVID-19 pandemic? I haven’t seen one listing dental professionals, but I think they should be included. Outside of every dental office a sign should appear that says, “Heroes Work Here!”. When you consider that the disease is spread through small droplets from the nose and mouth, and where and how dentists and dental auxiliary staff work, the risk factors of dental health care professionals approach those of other medical care professionals—or exceed them!

On March 16, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommended that dental offices close to all but urgent and emergency dental care. After several weeks of being unavailable for all elective procedures, most dentists are back to business, following the recommendations of the ADA, CDC and their state departments of health and safety to ensure the safety of their patients and staff.

During the period when dental offices were closed, teledentistry helped patients with a dental emergency access the expertise of their dentist via HIPAA-compliant live video conferences to triage the problems and discuss next steps. Teledentistry visits can often alleviate patient anxiety and eliminate a trip to the emergency room. Many dental insurance companies appreciate the role played by teledentistry and reimburse for teledentistry procedures, and many dentists have added teledentistry as a service option. Dr. Bryan Hoertdoerfer, of Hoertdoerfer Dentistry, Manchester, says, ‘We have incorporated teledentistry as an option within our business. Teledentistry is here to stay.”

Dental offices are inherently health- and safety-conscious; even so, if you’ve visited your dentist’s office since they’ve reopened, you’ve seen several changes because of the pandemic. Because dental offices have been closed, you might have to wait a bit longer for an appointment, so schedule one soon. If you haven’t visited since they’ve reopened, here are some changes you can expect.

You may be screened for COVID-19 symptoms during your appointment call, and you may be asked similar questions the day of your dental visit. Some dental offices may want you to answer those questions outside of the office, or as soon as you walk in. Your temperature may be taken. You will most likely be asked to wear a mask, which you can remove in the dental chair. You may be asked to wait in your car and call when you arrive rather than waiting in the waiting room; in the waiting room, you may see fewer chairs and no toys or magazines. Visitors are unlikely to be welcomed, with the possible exception of one parent with a young child. You may be asked to use hand sanitizer. You may hear the hum of air purifiers. You may see office areas shielded, and dentists and dental auxiliary staff (dental hygienists and assistants) wearing more personal protective equipment than usual.

Dental office safety is a joint responsibility, so please reschedule your appointment if you develop symptoms, test positively for COVID-19, or are exposed to someone with COVID-19 to protect the dental health professionals who are protecting you.

Northeast Delta Dental is pleased to have been able to support our participating dentists with PPE and financial relief while dental offices are closed, and now as they reopen. To learn more, visit www.nedelta.com.

Tom Raffio
President & CEO
Northeast Delta Dental

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Relief to Stakeholders During COVID-19

COVID-19 has had an influence on all aspects of our lives. It’s been my goal and that of my colleagues to do what we can for our stakeholders. In collaboration my board of directors, senior management team and in-house counsel, we came up with a remedial plan to grant aid to the people we serve in our territory– Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.  In this interview with Rory Farquarson, Principal at Elixirr, I explain how we arrived at relieving some of the pain the pandemic has inflicted on our employees, providers, employers, customers, and brokers/producers. It’s a mix of caring hearts meeting the numbers [actuarial and financial] to arrive at a solution that works for everyone. We’re all in this together, and together we will persevere.

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Professional Mindfulness: Increased Productivity; Decreased Stress

Practicing mindfulness can help tune out the added work environment distractions and stressors which COVID-19 has created. Even so, it might not seem intuitive for a successful midsize company to advance its continuous quality improvement program by training its employees in what we call professional mindfulness.

During my years as president & CEO, Northeast Delta Dental has adopted policies resulting in engaged and empowered employees. We offer training beginning with multi-faceted new employee onboarding and provide many training opportunities preparing employees for internal advancement. Despite outstanding employee survey results and winning awards for our HR practices, a few years ago we recognized that our employees were feeling the stress that comes with complex business issues in a distraction-rich environment. After researching possible stress reduction remedies, we decided to offer monthly training in the facets of mindfulness that could be applied in a business setting.

Mindfulness is often equated with meditation, possibly because the word has many definitions. At Northeast Delta Dental, we define mindfulness as “intentionally directing awareness to the present moment, in a focused and sustained manner, with nonjudgment”. The word “nonjudgment” is important because we’re trained in nonjudgmental communication, and “sustained” reflects our training in time management. We apply three elements of mindfulness: effective communication, time management, and meditation.

Mindfulness is important for communication because we are a service organization and many of us communicate directly with stakeholders, including our customers. Effective communication includes listening respectfully and trying to understand the speaker’s viewpoint before talking. Mindfulness has helped us identify time management tools that help employees work more efficiently, be more productive, and experience less stress. We also explore ways to make our meetings more mindful, apply mindfulness to our email and texting habits, and encourage unitasking rather than multitasking. Meditation is at the heart of mindfulness, and we encourage our employees to meditate regularly and provide quiet space in which they can relax, clear their minds, and let go of distractions.

Employees are encouraged to participate in training and apply mindfulness principles. About 30% of our employees have participated in mindfulness training offered since 2017. Feedback from confidential interviews conducted by an independent research consultant shows that those regularly practicing professional mindfulness receive positive benefits that include increased focus and productivity and decreased stress and anxiety.

If you are interested in exploring this topic further and are a member of the American Society for Quality (ASQ), you can read my May 2020 article entitled “Living for the Moment” in their publication, Quality Progress (QP), or you can click here. Another source on the topic is Mindfulness: A Better Me; A Better You; A Better World, a book I coauthored with Annabel Beerel, PhD, the organizational expert who trains our employees in professional mindfulness. If you have any questions about professional mindfulness or practice it in your business and want to share some of your experiences, I’d be happy to hear from you.

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Pandemics of the past. Clues to the future?

The current Coronavirus pandemic is one of a series of widespread health disasters our world has experienced, so I recently began reading two historical novels about plagues: A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel DeFoe, and The Plague, by Albert Camus.

Defoe was only five when, in 1665, the bubonic plague swept London, killing 100,000 people. The narrator of his story, H.F., offers his observations while he wanders the dirty streets of London. At the time of writing, the origins of “The Great Plague” were unknown, resulting in the exploration of some of the major themes of the period: religion, superstition, and the nature of disease and death. We now know it was usually transmitted through the bite of infected rat fleas. Like all historic novelists, DeFoe blends facts with what he imagines, but it’s still thought to be the best account of this plague.

I could relate to H.F. as a businessperson. His profession was saddlery, working with merchants who traded in the English colonies in America. When his older brother urged him to flee to the country, first his responsibilities kept him in London. Although single, he was responsible for a family of servants, a house, shop, and warehouse. As the number of deaths mounted, he made unsuccessful attempts to leave the city, and finally decided to stay, believing that providence was hindering those efforts. At the end of his account, H.F. observes that the people who survive are starting to be less thankful than they ought to be and are already beginning to practice their evil ways again.

If you’re interested in reading this book online, it’s available as an eBook (for free) through Project Gutenberg at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/376/376-h/376-h.htm.

The Plague, by philosopher and journalist, Albert Camus, is a novel set in Oran, a coastal town in North Africa, about the outbreak of the bubonic plague in North Africa in the 1940s. The setting is a rather otherwise ordinary town, a large port on the Algerian coast. With illness and death afflicting the good and the bad, and society and its institutions breaking down, Camus’ Absurdism philosophy shows the conflict between the human tendency to seek value and meaning in life and the human inability to find it in a chaotic, irrational world. In part, it’s an historical allegory of the German occupation of France during World War II. The narrator is a reporter/historian, bearing witness to the plague-ridden people to memorialize them. One of the websites where you can find the full text of this book is https://archive.org/details/plague02camu/page/n11/mode/2up.

These are both thought-provoking books as we consider how the countries afflicted by the coronavirus epidemic have responded, what lifestyle changes we have made to cope with it, and what our new “normal” might look like when it is no longer a threat. What changes do you think will have long-lasting impact on the choices we make moving forward? Please let me know what you think.

Pandemics of the Past

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Communicating Clearly, Consistently, and Accurately

We believe that effective communication is essential for our continued success as a great place to work and a stellar place to do business for all customers, service providers, and employees. Communication is one of Northeast Delta Dental’s four values. My colleagues and I believe in clear, consistent, and accurate communications. We like to be as transparent as possible in the way we do business, and everyone seems to appreciate that.

It’s been interesting to see how businesses communicate during this period of COVID-19 interruption and social distancing; some communicated messages broadly and immediately, and some rolled out their messages well into the business shutdown. One of the challenges that businesses and nonprofits currently wrestle with is the need to communicate messages that have to be updated often, knowing that the information we pass along today, will be outdated tomorrow.

In my role as President & CEO of Northeast Delta Dental and leadership roles on boards and advisory councils, I value face-to-face communication. But now I use phone calls, emails, and online conferencing to get things done. It’s not what I prefer, but these are the limitations we must work within. I continue to encourage my team to be resilient and resourceful, and at times like this, that really pays off.

We’ve shared several general messages about the fact that most of our employees are working remotely, people with essential positions are working at our headquarters at a distance from each other, while maintaining the mindset to do business as usual. We’ve shared messages with each of our stakeholders to reassure them, and when appropriate, describe the relief that we are providing to them, or are considering. On our website (nedelta.com), you will find my videos to stakeholders, which I created and posted early during this time of crisis, and new videos were posted today.

Now, perhaps more than ever, we need to provide information by using the most reliable sources available and communicate messages of hope and reassurance.

What are your communication challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how have you met them?

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