Borough physician adjusts to fluid COVID-19 realities

Business interruptions minimal as safety remains top priority.

Orthodontist Amy James has seen a lot over the course of her 21 years of practice in Haddonfield, but nothing quite compares with COVID-19. 

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There have been a few challenges in keeping staff and patients safe and healthy while observing proper sanitary and security protocols and social-distancing norms. But James’ office has remained a fixture in the borough for the last five months, with no plans to slow down. 

“We did close for the original Gov. (Phil) Murphy stay-at-home declaration. We were not open thereafter for a while, unless it was an emergency or essential care,” the physician said during a conversation with the Sun on Aug. 18. 

“We stopped all of our daily appointments, but the whole time, we saw patients who had immediate needs or urgent care, such as a broken apparatus, things like that. It was maybe a week or so that I didn’t go into the office because everyone was in a panic.”

James elected to furlough all her employees at the start of COVID as a precautionary measure,   attending to patients herself. The office eschewed normal appointments, electing to schedule on an as-needed basis, with restrictions — not seeing more than one patient in the office at a time, with no one else allowed inside while a patient was seen.

Since those early days, where not much was known about keeping people safe in public spaces, James’ office has kept up with the latest protective measures. 

“We haven’t really relaxed (social distancing), but now we have dividers between all of our patient chairs and our chairs are already 6 feet apart. So it was easier to accommodate patients and adhere to the guidelines,” James revealed.

“We ask parents to wait outside in the parking lot for routine appointments, and we’re not having anyone congregate in the lobby. We ask patients to call us when they get to the office, and we have them come in when we’re ready for them.”

Having an established medical practice meant that many of the restrictions promoted by Murphy and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to limit coronavirus exposure were already part of office safety procedures. 

“We always practiced perfect infection control as far as saliva disposal, tooth cleaning and mask wearing. We’ve also increased that now by wearing individual shields,” James stated.

“It’s not as pressing as a regular dental office, because so much of our treatment is done digitally that our patient contact is limited on a patient-by-patient basis. We’re wearing more gowns and coverings now than before. We still go through rigorous sanitizing of all our instruments.” 

James noted a higher rate of potential exposure with orthodontic surgery, whose practitioners are saddled with what she called “beekeeper” suits for maximum coverage and protection from airborne particles and fluids. 

Despite the periodic shifts in rules regarding the number of citizens in public and private spaces, James hasn’t seen a dropoff in business since the pandemic began. 

“We weren’t seeing any new patients at the start, because ortho is elective (as far as insurance is concerned),” James offered. “We missed out on consults during March and April, but it hasn’t had much of a negative effect.”

“Our patients are cautious, but it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for them to come back and continue treatment,” she added. “It has a positive effect on self-esteem, and for us from a business standpoint, that people are all still happy to continue our service.”

 

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