Don’t be fooled by our nearly empty parking lot these days. It isn’t an indication of how busy we aren’t; rather, it predicts what is to come.
We typically serve 3,000 people each month. In March, we saw that number drop by 800 visits. Forecasting on the first week in April, we may serve only 700 people this month. What has happened?
For starters, the American Dental Association recommended all dentists nationwide to close their practices except to see emergency dental cases. That caused us to cancel 600 appointments each month until that guidance is lifted. This means people are not having their teeth cleaned, increasing their risk for tooth decay, and those who had active treatment plans but who were stable are not receiving dental care at this time. In other words, cavities are not being filled, crowns are not being delivered, and root canals are delayed. Eventually, all these patients are at risk for having a dental emergency. In fact, we’ve already seen more dental emergency cases than usual, up 80% in March compared to January. We are on track to attend to 60 dental emergencies in April, three times our monthly average.
On the medical side of our house, we are seeing fewer patients there, too. Nearly all patients with elective appointments such as annual physicals, routine bloodwork, medication refill visits, and more, are cancelling for fear of coming to the clinic and being exposed to the sick people who are here each day. Every one of those well appointments will need to be rescheduled, especially for those with chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and other endocrine disorders, kidney and pulmonary disease, and so many others. Telephone consultation will take us only so far; we eventually must see and touch those patients to treat them safely.
Georgia has a robust network of charitable safety net clinics – when they are open. A number of our peers have had to reduce hours or temporarily close altogether because volunteers are not volunteering; most are retired and in the at risk age group so are wisely staying home. We are getting calls from far away places as the poor and uninsured are looking for alternatives to their usual medical homes.
All this points to the surge we expect when the various shelter in place orders and ADA guidance are lifted. Our call volume has increased from a high of 500 calls per day to 650 calls. Our phones are literally being used 80 times an hour. That is why we have not dismissed any of our staff. We know we will need every one of them when this season comes to an end.
Our challenge is to endure this season and remain whole. Don’t be fooled by the number of empty spaces in our parking lot. It doesn’t mean we are not essential and we don’t need your financial support. In fact, we need your support more than ever before. Without it, we will not be adequately resourced for the pent up demand that will surely unleash in the future.