Hazem Kobaisy uses two words to describe the resumption of business at his dental clinic: “crazy busy.”
Somba K’e Family Dental closed in March because of the Covid pandemic, then reopened in mid-June shortly after chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola sent Kobaisy a letter authorizing him to resume services.
He has since been catching up on cancelled appointments and working at an intense pace.
“Most dentistry isn’t cosmetic,” he said. “A lot of (dental issues), even if they aren’t causing pain, need to be dealt with before there is a problem. We’ve been staying longer during the day and working almost every weekend since the middle of June.”
The pandemic has created a hectic situation for his clinic.
He remembers the days leading up to March 21 when the NWT’s first confirmed case of Covid was diagnosed, and how quickly events unfolded.
“We received a call from an enforcement officer and then a letter saying we had to shut down. It was a chaotic time. We had to send the staff home and then close within hours of receiving the message,” he recalled. “We had an orthodontist here from Toronto. He finished his appointment with the patient and then left.”
All appointments were cancelled and only emergency cases were accepted.
“We had several during the shutdown but not all patients were seen because we advised them about how they could handle the problem, because I knew their dental history. Or they could take some medication for the pain or antibiotics for infections,” Kobaisy said.
He laid off his staff of 10, which was hard for him and the employees, but he said they understood the situation.
With more time freed up, Kobaisy spent most of the shutdown period redesigning his office to make it compliant with safety regulations for the day he could reopen.
He installed safety equipment such as ultraviolet (UV) lights in all 13 rooms of his clinic and physical barriers in the front lobby; a new cleaning machine for dental instruments he compared to “an expensive dishwasher” to minimize the need for staff to handle them, and secured personal protective equipment for himself and his staff.
The cost for the new equipment and the labour of electricians to put it all in came to at least $20,000, Kobaisy said. It added to the stress of almost 13 weeks of closure, with ongoing overhead costs that still had to be paid even though his clinic had very little income.
Since reopening, he and his colleague, Dr. Su Xu, have been seeing an average of 14-16 patients a day, slightly less than before Covid, “but not to the extent that I can’t cover my overhead,” said Kobaisy.
But the clinic’s enhanced safety protocol practices involve more work around the office, and with fewer hands to help since he has hired back only six of the 10 staff he had to lay off in March.
Once patients enter the office for their appointments, they must wash their hands and rinse their mouths with hydrogen peroxide and wear a mask. Their temperatures are taken and they’re given latex gloves to wear. They fill out a form to clarify their medical history as it relates to Covid.
“When the treatment is done, the room is left for at least 30 minutes with the UV light on to clean the air of any microbes. We switch to a different room if we have to see another patient and then our offices are wiped down with disinfectant. All the instruments are sterilized. That’s the standard,” Kobaisy said.
Physical distancing isn’t possible while he works on patients’ teeth, so he takes extra steps to minimize contact with oral fluids and the release of bacteria into the air.
“The guidelines say that rubber dams are needed. We use them as much as we can. We use high-suction at all times. We used that before but we’re more conscious of it now. It’s used more now than before.”
While the overall situation is far from perfect for Kobaisy, he feels fortunate being where he is.
“I have a lot of friends across the globe, including in the U.S. and in the UK, where they were affected badly. I feel like this crisis was handled extremely well in the NWT. Some of the decisions had to be made fast and they were handled as good as they could’ve been.
“Some of my dentist friends in the UK are still not back to work and this is the middle of July and they have no idea when they can go back to work. I was talking to my brother and sister in the U.S. – they’re doctors – and they were feeling secure before but now they’re facing the resurgence. Compared to them we’ve handled this well.”