It’s fair to say that very few businesses have been spared the ill effects of the COVID-19 economic shutdown. Some have experienced more severe financial losses than others, including dental practices. However, imagine whether the financial success of your dental practice or small business depends mostly on the generosity of people who will never take advantage of your services and low Medicaid reimbursement rates. Would your business be open if that was the case?
While measures taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus have affected businesses across the board, nonprofit dental clinics have been widely affected — and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Here are four ways in which the pandemic has disproportionately burdened members of the Dental Resource Program:️
1. Exorbitant costs of reopening.️
(several he does not have It reopened due to costs.)
At the dawn of the pandemic, many DRP members stepped up to help by donating their existing PPE to local hospitals, only to discover months later that the additional PPE they needed to safely reopen was not available.
Safety net clinics that provide treatment to patients at free or reduced cost are accustomed to operating on a small budget. But the additional supply costs and lower capacity are pushing those tight budgets to breaking point. One of our members from Missouri stated that “the costs of reopening PPE are staggering as well as the time and resources required to clean the clinic and labs after each patient.” For-profit dental offices may simply pass these costs on to the patient, but this is not an option for clinics that serve low-income patients who are either uninsured or rely on state-funded programs to pay for care.
Our expenses have increased due to COVID-19 and will continue to increase. We had to buy PPE for three times our regular price. Additionally, we expect to spend at least $285,000 on implementing temporary telehealth services. As we plan to reopen services, we anticipate additional costs as well.”
One of the DRP member clinics based in California️
What we do to help: We strive to provide relief to operating budgets by purchasing products donated to our members. Prior to closing, our generous donors provided more than $1 million in donated dental products and equipment, significantly impacting the number of children receiving care through DRP members. Since July, US company ToothFairy has distributed over $140,000 worth of products, but more is needed to help children who have waited months for much-needed treatment. (Get more information about donating the product here.)
2. Increase emergency (and more expensive) treatment.️
With many clinics closing for months or accepting urgent patients only to keep them out of emergency rooms, the condition of patients in need of care has worsened. Another clinic told us, “What were two superficial cavities in February had turned into a pulp or root canals and crowns by June.” To make matters worse, Medicaid often provides extraction coverage only in such cases, resulting in substandard care for children from low-income families.
What we do to help: With donor support, we can provide financial support to help clinics provide care for children whose treatment costs more than their families can afford. During February, National Children’s Dental Health Month, we’re launching a campaign to support Direct Care. Read more about it here.️
3. Personnel reduction and changes in operations.️
As more families face financial hardship and need the help of human service organizations, experts estimate that as many as a third of charities may not survive into the next year. In order to save their programs and stay available to children in need in the coming years, many of our member clinics are making painful cuts to their operating budgets and staffing. One of our members told us they had to lay off 19 employees, while others have reduced their hours.
How you can help: Volunteer at a clinic in your community. Dental professionals are especially needed, but front office workers, clerks, and custodians can also be of great help to expanding operating budgets. Members of our Dental Resource Program are listed by city and state here, but any safety net clinic, whether or not they are members of our program, can benefit from additional assistance.️
4. Access to the community is almost impossible.️
Children who require dental services often face transportation barriers, a shortage of caregivers, and lack the oral health knowledge needed to obtain routine dental care. Prior to COVID, our DRP members are surmounting those challenges through school and mobile-based services, and community outreach at events such as health fairs. Unfortunately, restrictions in most regions make such services nearly impossible. As a result, children lose basic preventive services and clinics lose another source of income.
As a school clinic, all services have stopped with schools closed. The toothache did not stop, but the dental clinics closed.”
One of the DRP member clinics based in California️
What we do to help: Our mission is twofold: increasing access to dental care, and providing education about the importance of prevention. Since the onset of the epidemic, we have intensified our focus on education in an effort to prevent the pain and suffering that often accompany tooth decay:
• In April we launched a new Resources page on our website, making all our educational materials free to download for health educators and parents alike.
• Since July, we have distributed more than 58,000 toothbrushes to organizations that can reach children in need so that even if they can’t visit the dentist, they have at least the basic tools they need for preventive care. (Our SmileDrive campaign is in full swing, but volunteers are needed to keep the momentum going. Visit SmileDrive.org to find out how you can help.)
• With the support of DentaQuest, we’ve invited kids to learn proper dental hygiene habits and win rewards with the Oral Health Action HERO Challenge. This campaign will run at various times throughout the year and double as a public service awareness campaign where participants share what they have learned through online videos.
• We have hosted online workshops to train non-dental volunteers on how to use the ToothFairy 101® Community Education Kit to provide oral health education to families in their area.
The pandemic has not made life easier for anyone, but we must all look for ways to help those who have been most affected and provide support to organizations that can truly help those in need. We encourage everyone who believes in our mission to ensure every child has a healthy smile to make a donation to support our work, or visit our share page to find the best way to make a difference for children in need!