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Local dentists work together to treat patients during virus restrictions

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After Gov. Kate Brown ordered health care providers to suspend all nonemergency procedures to preserve surgical masks and other medical supplies for the coronavirus, local dentists were left with several logistical challenges.

At a barn on Dr. Dennis Klemp’s property in Warrenton, dentists got together and talked about what they could do. Klemp, the owner of Klemp Family Dentistry in Astoria, said the space allowed them to maintain social distancing and some dentists joined via FaceTime.

Alexandroff Dental

During the emergency over the coronavirus, local dentists are treating patients at Alexandroff Dental in Warrenton.

“We knew we were going to be limited in what we could do, and of course multiple minds are much greater than a single, so we got together and started sharing information and basically formed ... Clatsop Dental Society COVID-19,” Klemp said.

The dentists created a plan to preserve personal protective equipment while continuing to help patients who may otherwise go to hospital emergency rooms for treatment.

They formed two groups. One group of dentists rotate in an on-call schedule to see emergency patients. The other group rotates on a teledentistry team schedule to consult with patients virtually and be available for hospitals to divert patients with dental needs.

The dentists are treating patients at Alexandroff Dental in Warrenton. Klemp said working out of one centralized location allows dentists to use less personal protective equipment and streamline their workflow. Only one patient is seen at a time as a safety precaution.

The dentists are also combining and storing their surplus personal protective equipment and will deliver it to Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria and Providence Seaside Hospital if necessary.

Any profit made after overhead expenses will be donated to an emergency fund, which will support dentists or staff that may need assistance during the coronavirus crisis.

Klemp said the plan brings operating costs down for private practices while continuing to provide emergency services.

“This wasn’t done by one, it was done by all,” Klemp said. “They all pitched in, they all went different directions and gathered information. A game plan was put together in a minimal amount of time, and it’s a game plan I think can be used statewide.”

Klemp shared the local plan with state Sen. Betsy Johnson.

“My call to her was to be acknowledged as part of this Oregon health system. And we want to be a part of it and we want to take care of our patients,” Klemp said.

He said dentists also need to receive personal protective equipment from the state to treat patients. He said there may be patients who go to the emergency room with a dental need that is painful, but not considered an emergency. In those cases, he said it is better that dentists treat those patients.

Johnson said she sent the local plan to the governor’s office.

“People are going to continue to have broken teeth and dental emergencies,” the Scappoose Democrat said Saturday during her weekly radio show.

“The dentists will continue to have fixed costs. The dentists don’t want to let go of their teams of highly trained and trusted dental hygienists, dental assistants and others in their offices. So, I just want the dentists to know I have lifted up their situation to the governor’s office and have made the case that these are highly trained medical professionals that functionally we are putting out of work and therefore out of service to their patients by virtue of being ill prepared at the state level with an adequate supply of personal protective equipment.”

Johnson said dentists are an important part of health care.

“I happen to think dentists are an integral part of the health care delivery system and I have been an advocate to make sure that dental offices have adequate PPE so they can go back to helping to serve their patients and the public,” the senator said in an interview.

Klemp said he appreciates the dental community being heard.

“The group of dentists in this community — every citizen should be so proud — they’re amazing,” he said. “They have stepped up in every way. We couldn’t have done what we did in this short period of time without seriously outstanding individuals.”

Nicole Bales is a reporter for The Astorian, covering police, courts and county government. Contact her at 971-704-1724 or nbales@dailyastorian.com.

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