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ADA members have governors’ ears as states consider reopening

From coast to coast, dentists stepping up to make their voices heard in halls of power

May 11, 2020

By David Burger

Image of Dr. Jacobo
Dr. Jacobo
New York — On April 6, Dr. Amarilis Jacobo’s best friend died from COVID-19.

Exactly one month later to the day, the New York City-based dentist participated in the first virtual convening of the New York Forward Re-Opening Advisory Board.

She was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo by virtue of her being a former president of the National Hispanic Dental Association, and she and other state leaders were tasked with guiding New York’s coronavirus reopening strategy.

Dr. Jacobo is not the only ADA member dentist tapped to help governors navigate their plans on reopening the states and their economies.

From coast to coast, dentists have stepped up to provide their perspective and voices to the chorus of how to safely get back to business during a time of unprecedented challenges.

Dr. Natasha Lee, past president of the California Dental Association; Dr. Rudy Liddell, Florida Dental Association president and chair of the ADA Council on Dental Practice; and members of the Virginia Dental Association have all, like Dr. Jacobo, brought their thoughts and opinions to governors who are considering, or have already decided, to relax social distancing and stay-at-home mandates that would pave the way for dental offices to reopen.

Florida

“Dentistry has been ahead of the curve in areas such as infection control and personal protective equipment for a long time,” said Dr. Liddell, who is also co-chair of the ADA Advisory Task Force on Dental Practice Recovery. We’re ready to safely get back to work.”

Photo of Rudy Liddell
Dr. Liddell
Dr. Liddell is a member of the industry working group on agriculture, finance, government, health care, management and professional services of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force, and the working group has met twice. He said that during the first meeting, he spoke up twice, and then heard that night from the governor’s office that they wanted him to deliver a 10-minute presentation about dentistry’s views on recovery at the next.

Dr. Liddell said his presentation was not one of doom and gloom but one of optimism, emphasizing that dentists could lead and are leading the charge to reopen responsibly, given their long history of treating patients safely for decades.

The task force had an effect, Dr. Liddell said. After hearing from the task force, the governor moved up the day when the phased approach to reopening the state would begin.

California

Dr. Lee was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to California’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery, along with former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger, Apple CEO Tim Cook and all former living California governors to help California pave the way toward a fast, safe economic recovery.

Image of Dr. Lee
Dr. Lee
Dr. Lee is a private-practice dentist in San Francisco, and said that the California Dental Association has a good working relationship with the governor’s office in advocating for issues important to dentistry and oral health in the state.

“He seems to understand dentistry,” Dr. Lee said. “He’s willing to engage with us and has attended our CDA Cares events in the past.”

Despite an imposing number of high-profile task force members, Dr. Lee said she ensures that her voice is heard.

“I’m quick to raise my hand on Zoom,” she said with a laugh.

The governor’s office appointed Dr. Lee to the task force’s small business subcommittee, which met for the first time the week of May 11 (although the task force has been in existence for longer). She said her overarching messages will be that dentists are an important part of the overall health care infrastructure and that small businesses like hers need to be sustainable and stay in business, but that is going to require adequate PPE and economic relief. In addition, she said she wants to emphasize dentistry as a health care leader in infection control and patient safety.

Virginia

Many state dental societies and associations formed their own recovery task forces in response to the pandemic.

One of them is the Virginia Dental Association, which convened its recovery task force of more than a dozen members, including Dr. Samuel W. Galstan, immediate past president of the Virginia Dental Association. He shares a practice in Chester with his wife, Dr. Sharone Ward, who is also on the task force.

Dr. Galstan said the state association has had a long relationship with the governors of the state, including the current one, Gov. Ralph Northam, a former physician, and said the governor and his Secretary of Health and Human Services were were especially receptive to the task force’s recommendations — so much so that the governor and secretary participated in a webinar in which the two answered questions from Virginia Dental Association members about the pandemic.

The collaboration continued on April 29, when Gov. Northam invited Dr. Elizabeth Reynolds, president of the Virginia Dental Association, to give a presentation on dentistry’s recovery plans during his own regularly scheduled press conference.

One of the task force’s main goals was creating a go-back-to-work toolkit.

Image of Dr. Galstan
Dr. Galstan
“We have the fortune of being on a great task force with some very smart, talented and energetic dentists,” Dr. Galstan said. “In my opinion, we have tried to be proactive and to give our members some crucial guidance and real-world solutions, while at the same time giving our governor some information and assurances that we are moving forward in a way that is reasonable and safe, so that we can safely reopen, rather than just stay closed indefinitely. Many of our members are overwhelmed at this time that we have tried to sort through all of the research and best practices, so that we can give them the tools to reopen their practices in the proper manner, and to be a trusted, invaluable, go-to source.”

Dr. Galstan reported that an unintended but welcome surprise came when 16 dentists joined the association during the pandemic.

As for New York’s Dr. Jacobo, she said that as a former president of not only the National Hispanic Dental Association but also the past president of both the Bronx County Dental Society and the Dominican Dental Association, she represents a large and diverse constituency. Those positions, she said, “put [her] in the right spot” to be an advocate for dentists not just in New York but across the country.

“We need to stay strong,” Dr. Jacobo said.

For COVID-19 resources from the ADA, visit the ADA Coronavirus (COVID-19) Center for Dentists.