September 29, 2020
Remington dentist, staff and patients adjust to virus
We did close for six weeks and the sky didn’t fall and the practice didn’t go under. If anything, I think it’s taught us to slow down a little bit. Things can look really bleak, but there’s always another day and another opportunity.
— Dr. Courtney Ashby
Remington Family Dentistry
206 E. Main St., Remington
Courtney Ashby, DDS
8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday
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Nothing comes between the Remington lawn care company owner and his regular visits to the dentist.
Not even the coronavirus pandemic.
“If you ask me, even before COVID, the dentist was one of the safest doctors to go to, because of how clean they were,” Parrish “Skip” Graham, 49, said moments after his six-month check-up Monday at Remington Family Dentistry at 206 E. Main St.
Dr. Courtney Ashby, who opened the practice five years ago, and her staff “have always had a clean environment,” Mr. Graham said. “It was always about that, even before COVID.”
Following the guidance of state governments, professional associations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dental practices across the country shut last spring because of the pandemic.
In late March, Dr. Ashby closed the office for six weeks but during that time treated patients who needed immediate care.
“I would come in if I got an emergency call, like a toothache, a broken tooth that was uncomfortable,” she explained. “Things that you couldn’t wait on.”
Her office also used that period to prepare new and more stringent “protocols” to ensure the safe return of patients and her staff.
Dr. Ashby believes that has paid off.
Before the pandemic, the practice had about 2,000 patients and may have added some during the last six months or so, she said.
“I think most of our patients trust us to take good care of them,” Dr. Ashby said. “I have a pretty good relationship that I’ve established with most of my patients. So, they know we’re doing everything in our power to keep them safe.”
Office administrator and hygienist Lauren Fotenos agreed.
“I felt patients were a tad nervous at the beginning,” said Mrs. Fotenos, 34. “But I would say by July, August patients began to bring in kids, who wore masks. I have a feeling they trust us. They see what we do. We wipe things down — that there’s hand sanitizer everywhere.”
Patients must call when they arrive at the office, before they can enter the waiting room. They also must wear masks in the office, except when in treatment rooms.
A staff member takes their temperature and asks them screening questions related to COVID-19 symptoms, potential exposure to people who might have the disease and the like.
“So far I haven’t had anybody who has been running a fever, which has been great,” Dr. Ashby said. “We’ve been pretty lucky.”
The practice has turned away no patients because of responses to screening questions, she added.
But, “they are also doing a really good job of screening themselves,” Dr. Ashby said. “We’ve had patients call and say, ‘I don’t feel well today. I don’t think I should come in’.”
The practice also schedules appointments so that “ideally” nobody occupies the waiting room, though “occasionally, I have a caretaker of a patient that needs to,” the doctor said.
Throughout the day, her staff repeatedly sanitizes the waiting area, patient restroom and the three treatment rooms — each equipped with air purifiers. After closing, they mop the floors.
“It’s a little bit more involved,” said receptionist Gail Smith, 62. “We’ve always been super-hygienic anyway — cleaning surfaces and everything. But we’re just more diligent right now.”
While the coronavirus has resulted “a lot of extra chores that have been created for all of us, we’re getting used to them,” Dr. Ashby said. “That’s our new normal.”
The new procedures also have reduced the number of patients the staff treats per day.
Before the shutdown, the staff saw about 20 people daily, Dr. Ashby said. Today, it treats about 16 per day, she said.
“Today, I’d say we’re operating more on a normal schedule,” the doctor said. “But we’re still very careful. We’re not backing people up in the schedule quite as tight as we used to.”
It would be difficult at this point to calculate the financial toll the six-week closure has taken on the business, Dr. Ashby said.
The loss of revenue combined with her decision to continue to pay three of four employees during that time forced her to dip into savings, she said. A part-time hygienist who drew about eight weeks of unemployment benefits rejoined the practice.
But working with The Fauquier Bank, Dr. Ashby secured a $45,000 through the Small Business Administration’s “Payroll Protection Program.” The SBA forgives such loans if a business meets all of the program’s criteria and uses the money for eligible expenses.
“That helped tremendously,” she said of the loan.
Under the circumstances, patients seem to have adapted well to the new office rules, Mrs. Smith said.
“They wear their masks into the office, and they seem very comfortable and at ease with what we’re doing to protect them,” the receptionist said.
Measures to keep patients and staff safe could become permanent, Mrs. Smith suggested.
“I think this is going to be the new protocol, because we don’t know when COVID’s going to leave, if it ever will.”
Dr. Ashby has taken the pandemic in stride.
“I wouldn’t want to have to” shut the practice again, she said. “But we did close for six weeks and the sky didn’t fall and the practice didn’t go under. If anything, I think it’s taught us to slow down a little bit. Things can look really bleak, but there’s always another day and another opportunity.”
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