MAY 2020 PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE:
by Glenda G. Owen, DDS
This is my last message as President of the Greater Houston Dental Society. My term ends May 31. As I contemplate that personal milestone, I keep thinking of a line from the Grateful Dead song, “Truckin’”: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
It has been an unusual year. It began with the retirement of our executive director of 16 years, Susan McKee, requiring a months-long search culminating in the hiring of our new ED, Deanna Menesses. The year ends in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that has shaken our economy and our profession to its core. It has not been boring.
COVID-19 has given me a focus outside my practice and family: an opportunity to serve our large community of members. Instead of practicing dentistry in my office, I found myself at home, gathering information for member email blasts, trying to sift through the confusing and sometimes conflicting details in the crush of news articles, videos and webinars, trying to cull out and present the most important information and recommended actions we dentists needed for our survival.
Many of you may not be aware of the support we have received at the state and national level. The TDA president, Dr. Charles Miller, and the TDA staff have responded quickly to our requests for information and assistance. The TDA has provided remarkable service by clarifying Governor Abbott’s orders, contacting the Secretary of State’s office about delaying franchise tax payments, and asking the State Insurance Commission about business interruption claims.
At the national level, our ADA District 15 Trustee, Dr. Craig Armstrong, has kept us informed of ADA breaking news and efforts on our behalf, particularly by the ADA legislative team. The ADA mounted a successful member email campaign urging the U.S. Treasury Department, the Small Business Administration, and Congress to allow dentists to apply for both types of SBA loans, EIDL and PPP. The ADA website has maintained up-to-date information throughout this pandemic and created a comprehensive “Return to Work Interim Guidance Toolkit.”
Locally, I want to thank our GHDS staff who have worked from home during the pandemic. Jennifer Smith sent out all the email blasts to our members, sometimes on weekends and evenings, in addition to producing our Journal without an interruption in service. Charlotte Bolls stepped into the acting ED role from June to February, in addition to maintaining her meeting planning responsibilities, including managing a successful Star of the South meeting. Jayne Fuller has kept committees going and is preparing administratively for the next year, which begins June 1. Della Goodson has provided administrative assistance for all these functions. Deanna Menesses, our new ED, moved to Houston from Louisiana and stepped into her new job March 2. Three weeks later, she and the entire team, whom she was just getting to know, had to start working from home. Her reaction to his baptism by fire has revealed that she is organized, focused and tenacious. It appears that we hired the right person.
On April 27, Governor Greg Abbott announced plans to slowly reopen the state and lifted the restriction on dental practices, allowing a return to routine care on May 1. There were several stipulations. N-95 or KN95 masks, or their equivalents, had to be used within six feet of an aerosol procedure, hygienists, at least initially, could use only hand instruments and when aerosols are produced, an intra-oral isolation system is required. These requirements created a renewed frenzy to find proper PPE and delayed the opening of many practices. We remain frustrated over a lack of promised funds from the SBA and the Treasury Department. COVID-19 testing is woefully inadequate in Texas, so we haven’t had a good handle on the number of cases, making predictions challenging. At this writing, the peak was occurring in Texas and hospitals are getting busier with COVID-19 patients. We hope they are prepared. We patiently, but wearily, await the end of social distancing so that we can, even slowly, resume normal lives but it appears that is many, many months away. We want to be back in our offices. We want to be closer than six feet to other humans.
We are not responsible for what has happened to us. We feel odd and out of sorts. But I suspect that part of us enjoys the slower-paced life, and especially, the extra time to spend with our families. This is a perfect time for reflection. What are our core values? What really matters to us? What do we miss about working? What is it about our work that lets us experience what we like best about ourselves? Is our current practice model enhancing that? If not, what needs to change? These are questions to ask our teams, as well as ourselves, because the answers will help define what our lives and our practices look like when we return to seeing patients.
As we go back to our practices, I encourage you all to allow a little extra time in each appointment to reconnect with your patients and to ask how they have been affected by this pandemic. A few minutes of listening is such a gift. It will insure years of trust, cementing those relationships and reminding us why we enjoy our patients as people.
Our professional lives, our practices and our community will survive this disaster – we are, after all, “Houston Strong.” But we will be forever changed by this extraordinary experience.
And frankly, that could be a good thing.