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COVID-19 Fatigue: Keeping Masks on and Office Morale up

After many months of complying with personal protective equipment requirements, many dental professionals have become fatigued and some practices have let their guards down. Learn how to accommodate employees’ comfort while maintaining mask wear in breakrooms, team meetings and more.

After nearly a year of compliance with complicated, and sometimes uncomfortable, COVID-19 protocols, many dental professionals are exhausted. And practice owners are conscientiously taking steps to show their teams compassion and empathy. However, fatigue with wearing mandatory personal protective equipment (PPE) doesn’t change the regulations or the potential for serious risks.

Letting your guard down, even when the intention is to accommodate employees’ comfort, can create health risks for all patients and staff as well as liability risks for the practice.

Over this past winter, The Dentists Insurance Company’s Risk Management Advice Line received calls from practice owners with questions about the risks of serving alcohol at staff parties. These callers were no longer thinking about preserving social distancing or wearing masks when it came to staff gatherings. With good hearts but poor judgement, they just wanted their teams to have a nice, relaxing time.

In fact, the Advice Line recently received a call from a dentist who found out that one of his employees had tested positive for COVID-19. The employee attended a team meeting the day before and wasn’t experiencing any symptoms. Unfortunately, the entire team was without PPE during this meeting. In situations without patients present, the team had become lax about PPE compliance. Over time, the young and generally healthy staff had become jaded about wearing PPE — and the dentist had not been consistently enforcing guidelines.

The dentist and TDIC’s Risk Management analyst discussed the workers’ compensation reporting guidelines that are now required. The analyst cautioned the dentist that by not following and enforcing guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, OSHA and the CDPH, his conduct could be perceived as lacking regard for the safety of his patients, therefore he could potentially face issues beyond a workers’ compensation claim.

OSHA regulations make wearing appropriate PPE mandatory. A dental office that does not discipline a staff member for failing to follow infection prevention policies could be viewed as an employer that is not serious about preventing the spread of infection. Noncompliant employees put patients and peers at risk. Their choices should be viewed as disciplinary issues, leading up to and including termination.

So, how can practices stay vigilant and combat COVID-19 fatigue?

  • Foster an atmosphere of trust. Being a compassionate employer means listening to employees and finding safe, practical ways to meet their needs.
    • Is the PPE fitted properly to the employee and are compliant mask options available that are more comfortable to wear?
    • Are employees taking regularly scheduled breaks and having socially distanced opportunities to rest?
    • Do they feel they can tell you if they observe another employee being noncompliant?
  • Model the behavior you seek. As a practice leader, you’re likely fatigued as well! However, your role is to demonstrate best practices, clinical protocols and healthy ways to manage stress.
    • Are you wearing your own mask consistently, even when no patients are present and you’re conversing with an employee?
    • Have you been attentive to your own sleep and health needs, or even made shift adjustments, so you are able to come to work rested and ready?
    • Have you recognized your own signs of fatigue and sought ways to be optimistic and engaged with your team?
  • Be direct in your response. Despite ongoing education and awareness about PPE requirements, some employees will still fail to comply. In this event:
    • Review practice expectations and regulatory requirements during staff huddles, but don’t wait for the next huddle to address noncompliance issues.
    • Address any issues immediately and in person with the employee. Whether the action necessitates a friendly reminder or a more serious discussion, don’t put it off until a repeated instance or “give them a break” before interceding.
    • Document your interaction and be clear about disciplinary consequences for noncompliance.

Every team member should be committed to creating a safe practice environment, which means they make conscientious, consistent efforts to preserve the health of peers, patients and the community even when they feel worn out. Keep your chin up and consult an experienced Risk Management analyst for trusted guidance navigating practice challenges.

TDIC’s Risk Management Advice Line is a benefit to TDIC policyholders. To schedule a consultation with an experienced risk management analyst, visit tdicinsurance.com/RMconsult or call 800.733.0633. For Risk Management guidance in Idaho, Oregon or Washington, call 800.452.0504.

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