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Sandy aftermath recounted

ADA, tripartite unite to support affected dentists

 

Flood damage: Dr. Stuart Segelnick lost his Brooklyn, N.Y., office to the floodwaters of Superstorm Sandy.

Flood damage: Dr. Stuart Segelnick lost his Brooklyn, N.Y., office to the floodwaters of Superstorm Sandy.

Talking about it doesn't do it justice.
 
Talking about having no power, seeing flooded homes and businesses, and not being able to practice doesn't come close to capturing what it's like to live it.

Living it means not being able to sleep in your own bed or take a hot shower in your home. It means taking stock of your belongings and seeing the objects that encompassed your life destroyed. It's waiting hours and hours for gas, sometimes to realize there's none left.

It's seeing the practice you built gone and trying to reconcile how you and your staff will make ends meet in the meantime. It's knowing your patients may not receive care in your absence.

This is the new reality for thousands of dentists in New York and New Jersey.

"I've never seen anything like it before," said Dr. Steven Gounardes, 2nd District trustee, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. "Certain communities you would think a bomb went off, just totally devastated. What you see on TV and what you see in reality are two different extremes."

Rubble: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Philadelphia District has sent teams to the New Jersey and Delaware coasts to assess damages.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Hurricane Sandy made landfall as a superstorm near Atlantic City, N.J., on Oct. 29 after it transitioned from a tropical to a post-tropical cyclone. Winds reached up to 80 miles per hour, and the storm extended nearly 500 miles beyond the center, according to the National Weather Service. More than 100 people were killed and thousands endured large-scale flooding, wind damage and mass power outages in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

"There is almost no one in New Jersey who is unaffected," said Dr. Michael Messana, president of the New Jersey Dental Association. "Offices have been lost. A number of coastal cities are seriously affected, and it will be months or maybe even years before these areas get restored. Gasoline shortages have also been particularly difficult. Some patients are expressing reluctance to go to their appointments even if there is power for fear that they may not have enough gas. New Jersey dentists are a resilient bunch, but we've been hammered by a fragile economy, and now a major storm."

New York and New Jersey were the hardest hit, with many dentists not only suffering damage to their homes but to their practices. The situation was made even more complicated Nov. 7 when a nor'easter blew through the region, killing power for many whom had just gotten it back.

"It really is a war zone type of story at this particular time," said Dr. Mark Feldman, executive director of the New York State Dental Association.

The ADA, ADA Foundation, NYSDA and the New Jersey Dental Association are working together to provide aid and relief to members affected by the storm. The Foundation created a new Emergency Disaster Assistance Grant and is soliciting donations through ADA.org to help those in need. The NYSDA is collecting donations on its website, www.nysdental.org, and members can also donate to the NJDA by calling 1-732-821-9400.

"As dentists, our common bond undoubtedly includes deep concern for any communities affected by disasters, including their dentists. Across the country, our hearts certainly go out to all those suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy," said ADA President Robert Faiella in an email message to members.

State and local leaders have heard many stories of devastation from members but also know they haven't been able to reach everyone. Some are still without power, which means no phone or Internet service, and many have been too busy putting their lives back together to reach out to their dental society. It's been difficult for leaders to estimate how many dentists' practices or homes were damaged, but they're guessing thousands have been affected in one way or another.

"Communications have been spotty," said Arthur Meisel, NJDA executive director. "I haven't heard from many members yet. Two had standing water in their offices: one wanted to know about saving patient records, another inquired about disaster grants for damaged equipment."

From news reports, Mr. Meisel fears that some dental offices may have been wiped out.

"Some of the more hard hit areas include Belmar, N.J., and Atlantic City, that's a large area and we have members there," said Mr. Meisel. "In North Brunswick, we're nowhere near the shore. We have down power lines and a tree fell on my business manager's house, missing his wife by two feet. But the damage here is far less serious. I'm anticipating there will be some damage especially in coastal and low-lying areas from the storm surge, but we just don't know yet. For others it's likely they will be looking at business interruption from trees down and wind damage."

In addition to the damage, dentists have to worry about the financial side of their practice. Practices without power or that were flooded were obviously closed and dentists weren't seeing patients.

"When the power was restored, patients weren't coming in because there was still a shortage of fuel and nobody was going anywhere," Dr. Feldman said. "Also, the last thing on people's priority lists is to drive to the dentist for their regular checkup."

The state dental societies are particularly worried about dentists who didn't carry flood or other insurance to assist them in their recovery. Damage from water is not covered under a standard insurance policy; dentists needed to carry flood insurance, Dr. Feldman said.

"The vast number of members who didn't have offices directly on the shoreline didn't realize they were in a flood zone and had never flooded in the past so they didn't carry flood insurance," Dr. Feldman said.

The hope is that members had business interruption coverage, allowing them to continue paying their overhead costs, such as staff salaries, rent and other expenses. There is also concern over younger dentists with new loans who may not own their own practice but who are working in practices that have been closed because of the storm.

"Those dentists don't have any money coming in currently, thus making it difficult for them to keep up on their loans and daily living expenses," Dr. Feldman said.

The NYSDA is helping members process their insurance claims and offering dues waivers or an extension to pay their dues if they're in a difficult spot financially.

Dr. Maxine Feinberg, 4th District trustee who lives in New Jersey, praised all levels of the tripartite for their swift call to action to help members in need.

"The team response to Hurricane Sandy was an example of the tripartite system functioning at its best," said Dr. Feinberg, who lost power in her own home and had to stay at a friend's house for several days. "Now that the state societies have been able to regroup, they are filling in the gaps and reaching out to those who were most hard hit by the storms. This type of personal attention is what the membership value most. Even on the component level, the outreach has been phenomenal. Dentists who have power and are able have been assisting others who remain without power or offices by lending space and covering emergencies. This was a very grassroots effort fueled by our sense of camaraderie and concern for patients' well-being."

Efforts to help members in the Northeast will be ongoing and those who want to help should contact their local or state dental society or the ADA.

"At times like these, the phrase 'dental family' has no greater meaning," Dr. Faiella said. "The ADA and your state and local dental associations are determined to do all we can to help."