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Louisiana dentists rebuild after storm

Volunteers sought for New Orleans Mission of Mercy project

August 31, 2016

By Michelle Manchir

A sign of hope: Dr. Leanne Smith, right, and her office partner Dr. Gayle Sanchez hold a temporary sign a patient made for her to use after her office flooded, destroying almost everything inside. She and Dr. Sanchez are sharing space in another local dentist's office until Dr. Smith can rebuild the office.
East Baton Rouge Parish, La.  — Dentists are among the thousands here salvaging what they can from their homes, and in some cases, dental practices — and also pitching in to help others affected — after days of torrential rainfall slammed southern Louisiana in August.

At least 40 dentists reported flooding in their offices, homes or both, according to the Louisiana Dental Association. Among the general population, an estimated 100,000 homes were flooded, 54,611 in East Baton Rouge Parish alone, said LDA Executive Director Ward Blackwell. The federal government declared 20 Louisiana parishes disaster areas, while the Louisiana Department of Health has confirmed 13 storm-related deaths.
"There have been reports from meteorologists classifying this as a 'thousand-year rain' event," said Mr. Blackwell.

The flooding hit hardest in some areas that are not considered to be in flood plains, Mr. Blackwell said, leaving many who didn't carry flood insurance with a huge mess and few resources.

The Louisiana Dental Association Foundation and the ADA Foundation offer immediate aid for dentists through emergency disaster grants. The ADA Foundation disaster program targets emergency personal needs such as food, water, clothing and shelter for any dentist experiencing personal loss due to a declared disaster, and it also offers grants for 501(c)(3) organizations that provide dental care following a disaster.  The LDA grants offer assistance to all dental professionals and their families who are in need. Go to ADAFoundation.org or LAdental.org for more information.

"Everything is gone"
Just days after Dr. Leanne Smith moved from associate to owner of the Sanchez & Smith Family Dentistry office in Denham Springs, Louisiana, it flooded, destroying almost everything inside.

"I had water over the countertop," she said. Save for a few autoclavable instruments, "everything is gone."

Nonetheless, Dr. Smith continues to see patients who were in the middle of treatment. This is possible, she said, because of the generosity of Drs. Pam Daniel  and John Day, two local dentists sharing their office space. This kind of gesture — dentists opening  their offices to other dentists with damaged property — is one the Louisiana Dental Association reports is being repeated throughout the affected areas.

Cleanup begins: Flooding destroyed nearly everything in Dr. Leanne Smith's dental office in Denham Springs, Louisiana. As the cleanup process begins, a pile of damaged dental furniture and other items sit outside the office.
While the adjustment of going from her own seven-chair practice to a small temporary space is challenging, Dr. Smith said the perceived "normalcy" of treating familiar patients offers a sense of comfort.

"There's hardly been one patient that's come in who hasn't been personally affected," she said.

Dr. Smith said she plans to rebuild the flooded practice. Since it's in a flood plain, she said she had insurance that would cover some of the damages — and her husband works as a contractor, an especially useful ally to have as many are looking to rebuild their properties.

"There's just not enough of them [contractors] to go around," Dr. Smith said.

Thankfully, Dr. Smith's home in Baton Rouge was spared any damage, she said, adding that her dedicated staff and the support from her family and friends — and her practice partner, Dr. Sanchez — have been instrumental in coping with the losses.

"His emotional support has been worth every penny," she said of Dr. Sanchez. "We make a great team."

"You try to help your brethren"

Dr. Chad Spillers worked quickly to move family photos, memorabilia from his wedding and other irreplaceable possessions to the top floor of his East Baton Rouge home as water gushed inside it.

All told, the house filled with six-and-a-half feet of water over two days, putting him and his wife and three children in an apartment for what he expects to be at least a year.

Dr. Spillers, who has co-owned a dental practice in nearby Gonzales, Louisiana, since 2014, is accustomed to the daily summer rainfall in the southern part of the state. But he'd never endured that kind of flooding before.

"It hit hard," he said. "Nobody expected that kind of water."

Historic flooding hits home: Dr. Chad Spillers and his family are displaced from their East Baton Rouge home after six-and-a-half feet of rain water damaged it.
Still, Dr. Spillers said he counts himself among the more fortunate flood survivors, thanks in large part to his church community and extended family that have made coping with the material losses bearable.

"As cliché as it sounds, God is first in my world and also family. We have a great family relationship — my in-laws and my parents have been helping — and my church family has been helping at the house, bringing supplies and meals. In that regard I'm truly blessed."

Dr. Spillers said he is also thankful that his dental office was largely spared from storm damage, and he's opened it to a dentist who lost of much of his equipment so that he can work out of it, too.

"You try to help your brethren as much as you can," Dr. Spillers said.

While Dr. Spillers' office remains open, patients for now are slow coming in.

"Every third or fourth patient I've talked to is flooded," he said. "Dentistry's the last thing on their minds."

Volunteers sought

With many Louisiana dentists preoccupied with flood recovery, the Louisiana Dental Association invites dentists and dental hygienists across the country to participate in its Mission of Mercy event near New Orleans Sept. 30-Oct. 1.

"We are well short of having the volunteers needed at this point, and concerned that the usual last-minute rush to sign people up will simply not materialize with so many people fatigued from the stresses of flood recovery," said Mr. Blackwell.

Helping hands: Many affected by flooding in Louisiana say the willingness of community members to help those in need is heartening. Dr. Chad Spillers, far right in green shirt, whose home was badly damaged because of flooding, stands among other helpers. Dr. Spillers said his office hosted a meal giveaway, preparing and serving jambalaya to "whoever came out."
That's where ADA members come in.

The LDA will obtain temporary state licensure to provide treatment in Louisiana for any out-of-state volunteers willing and available to participate who register for LaMOM by Sept. 22. Those registering after Sept. 22 for whom the LDA is unable to obtain licensure in time are invited to help out with the MOM in other areas that don't involve treatment.

For more information on this event and how to volunteer, contact Sharon Elliott, LDA Director of Membership, by email at Sharon@ladental.org, or go to: www.lamissionofmercy.org.

Resources available

The Louisiana Dental Association has prepared a list of disaster preparedness and recovery resources for dentists at LAdental.org, where dentists can also find out more information about disaster relief grants, or make donations.

The ADA also has information about emergency planning and disaster recovery planning in the dental office at the ADA Center for Professional Success, Success.ADA.org.

The ADA Foundation accepts contributions for its Emergency Disaster Grant Program in its efforts to provide grant assistance to those in need. To support the Foundation's Disaster Fund, call 1-312-440-2763 or go online to ADAFoundation.org and select the How to Help page.