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Report from Staten Island

Dentists help one another recover from storm

Staten Island, N.Y.—Just as Staten Island’s dentists were starting to dig out, warm up, power up and reach out to their colleagues in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, a powerful nor’easter hit Nov. 7, dumping 6 inches of snow on the island, causing more power outages and continuing the chill for residents who have been without power and heat since Oct. 29.

Dr. Raymond Flagiello, a Staten Island dentist, considers himself lucky. He and his family were without power for more than a week, and they had some minor storm damage on their property, but his office escaped the wrath of the storm and he has been able to reach out to his dental colleagues and his neighbors with assistance.

After Sandy hit, Dr. Flagiello and his wife and their three children camped out in their living room, rearranging furniture and using sleeping bags so they could take advantage of the warmth of their fireplace, he said. They cooked on their barbecue grill or ate cold food until their power was restored.

But other area dentists and residents in general were hard hit. Many were displaced. At press time, at least 22 island residents had died—the highest death toll in New York City’s five boroughs and nearly half of all killed in New York City—and many more were still missing.

“Many dentists in our area had substantial damage to their homes and their offices or both,” said Dr. Flagiello. “My colleague Dr. Florence Certo and I have been collecting and medical and dental supplies for disaster assistance. There’s a need for medical masks and gloves, disinfectants and other medical supplies, as well as toothbrushes and toothpaste for displaced residents in shelters. So we’ve been collecting donations from fellow dentists and from suppliers for the local Red Cross.”

He said he knew of three dental offices that were heavily damaged by Sandy. One dentist spent out-of-pocket money to restore his office’s heat, water and dental equipment to working order, but the other two will most likely wait until their insurance claims are processed before starting the process of reopening.

For dentists who are able to practice, said Dr. Flagiello, “business is horrible. If you have four or five patients a day, that’s a lot. In Staten Island, lots of small business owners lost their homes, their businesses or both. That is devastating. And right now there is a tremendous gas shortage. Lines for gas can be a half mile long.”

While his office was without power, he made some house calls for patients with emergencies, he said. “One of my patients lost a temporary and he said he had to go to his wife’s 50th birthday party and he couldn’t go without the temporary, so I took my supplies and some portable equipment to his house because he had power. Then he paid me with a hot meal for my family.”

Dr. Flagiello is proud of his colleagues’ response to their peers affected by the disaster. “We’re all trying to do as much as we can. The dentists here reached out to try and help each other first,” Dr. Flagiello added. “Those with an extra chair are offering to take in dentists whose offices are damaged. It could be years before things are back to normal.”

News from dentists in New York’s Second District Dental Society, which includes Brooklyn and Staten Island, is trickling in as people regain power, cell phone service and Internet, said Bernard Hackett, executive director.

“We are working closely with the New York State Dental Association and its foundation and the ADA to help affected dentists apply for relief grants or to put dentists with damaged offices in touch with those who can loan them some office space until they get back on their feet,” he said.

“Many of our 1,400 members have been affected, but we are sure that contacting us isn’t the first thing on their minds. They have immediate hardships. They are doing what they can to get back on their feet, and for many this means taking care of things at their homes. Recovery is going to be an incredibly tedious process because of the devastation in our area.”

He said he has heard from members whose offices are open that patients are canceling appointments because of the gasoline shortage.

“Once power and communications are restored, we will be on the road to recovery,” he said. Dentists in the Second District can visit the website, sddsny.org, for updates, storm relief resources or to share dental office space with area colleagues.