We will be our best if we go together

We have now added COVID-19 to the list of acronyms that denote benchmarks in our history. These are times that will be remembered as the guides and bumpers dictating our thoughts and directions for life as we thought we knew it. In several conversations, I have given my perspective on this current epoch as a combination of 9/11, Y2K, and the energy crisis of the ’70s, seasoned with a pinch of the blizzard of ’76 and ’77. Usually I preface those comments with the phrase, “Never in my lifetime have I seen …”

News reports of this “novel coronavirus” were (to me) about something that China was dealing with, yet seemed poised to take the role of this year’s illness that we should be wary of. But hadn’t we heard these things before? Swine flu, avian flu, even the number letter designations (H1N1, H2N3, and the like) had become familiar vocabulary and this “corona-thing” seemed to be the natural next candidate, complete with the jokes and memes on social media. Oh, how familiarity and complacency can be such a snare.

And so it was, no longer than three weeks ago, that my office staff and I were busy doing our thing – taking care of our patients. I remember the most recent team meeting where we had discussed updated production goals and job responsibilities as we had just added an additional hygienist, an insurance coordinator, and had filled a position vacated by our office manager who recently relocated to the Carolinas. The family atmosphere that we have worked hard to cultivate over the past 24 years, with both patients and employees, seemed to be tuning to a euphonious pitch and we were setting goals. That was then …

The week of March 9th is when I learned how to say, “COVID” and things started getting real. Canceling school? Church?? LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE??? Our practice was not unaware of the current state of things and we began measures aimed at reducing exposure of the “high-risk” patients (rescheduling their appointments) as well as heightening our already high standards of infection control. At that point, my personal leadership tenet of “seeing first and farthest” became a fleeting vapor in the wake of the constant influx of new information from the CDC, ADA, ODA and the OSDB. Emails, texts and social media messages from colleagues rattled my phone as we all began to sift through and attempt to interpret information about emergent versus elective procedures. In my world, our own plans were being spawned as my hygienists were receiving their own emails from the dental board, triggering questions about the “reschedule all routine hygiene appointments” part. The next day brought about the most difficult conversation I have ever had with my team as a whole. Mandated reduction in workflow meant a reciprocal reduction in staffing … the entire staff. With my wife by my side and looking into 11 faces painted with anxiety I delivered the news that had already been dealt by some of my colleagues across the state. We would remain a team but, for the time being, we would not be able to work together. My wife was quick to offer to help in any way as they began the process of applying for their unemployment benefits. Of note, as I was melding my “moist” eyes with theirs during my “speech” I sensed their collective attempt to actually comfort me. I had always tried to tell them daily how I truly appreciate them … it was never more true than at that moment.

A colleague sent me an email early on basically setting the tone for my approach to the entire situation. The challenge for me and our entire society was to “turn this time of anxiety and fear into opportunity.” I firmly believe in that. Those of you who know me know of my faith. Consistent with that is my belief that we have all been created intentionally and with purpose. We have a distinct and individualized call to use our knowledge, our capabilities, our leadership skills, and our hearts to contribute in some way on this pandemic voyage. A tangible example was initiated by one of our component members who personally challenged us to donate whatever surplus PPE we could spare to local emergency management agencies and similar organizations. The response came quickly as I began hearing of multiple members giving what they could. The same was echoed from sister components in other areas of the state and I am anxious to see final tallies in coming weeks as we can all appreciate how the little, given by many, served the multitudes.

I have never in my career been more proud of, thankful for, and blessed to be associated with organized dentistry and especially the Ohio Dental Association. From the beginning ODA President Dr. Sharon Parsons, ODA Executive Director David Owsiany, and the entire ODA staff have been tireless in their efforts to advocate and communicate the nuts and bolts of how we as dentists can survive in these challenging times. Many dental professionals in Ohio will never fully know the extent of advocacy that has been sought and fought for on our behalf in state and federal arenas.

Whether or not we have resumed some form of normal practice by the time you read this I am convinced that wherever we are and wherever we are going we will be our best if we go together. That’s what I told my team on that last day and have repeated as we remain in close contact, “just a little longer until we’re back together, doing what we all do best – taking care of our patients.”