A different leadership challenge

The year has just started. You have your budget done and are now setting ideas and tactics to meet or beat that budget. But have you planned for the unexpected? With all the natural disasters last year, have you made plans to stay open when your competitors can’t? Have you sat down with your team and discussed what would happen if the area lost power for an extended period?  Leadership includes having a place for your employees to come to and earn their living. This article will hopefully get you to do emergency planning for your office, your patients and your employees.

I recently stepped down from leadership positions at the national, state and local levels on planning for a medical emergency.  I got involved with this topic as many did, as a follow-up to 9-11. The company I worked for, Henry Schein, was very involved in the aftermath of the event at the World Trade Center.  Our Dental division was working with NYU on dental record identification, our Medical division on supplies to the NYC hospital system and our Vet division on products to keep search dogs’ feet cared for and protected. I just happened to stay involved for the following 17 years.

When I first got involved it was primarily planning for other man-made emergencies. Recently, the planning is very much based not on a man, but a woman- Mother Nature. Over the past few years, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and even wildfires have caused hundreds of dental offices to close from days to weeks at a time.   What are your plans for the “uh-oh” moments?

It doesn’t matter if you are a solo office, part of a group or a large national DSO, you need to sit down with your office team and do some planning. This team planning exercise will show that you care not only for your patients but for your team as well.

Planning for the unexpected, if done correctly, can be part of annual planning.  Let’s make the first meeting one that is even more general than just outside influences.

“Team, this meeting is to identify events that might happen this year that could put a strain on us staying open for our customers (patients) and for our group.  I know some of this might be personal and you can come see me after the meeting if you feel more comfortable, but do any of you see any major changes in your lives that could affect the office? As an example, is there a possibility that you might be moving out of the area?  Are there any financial issues in your household that could affect your work here? Is there anything going on with your extended family that would cause you to need an extended leave?”

The above shows you care about the TEAM, and it is important that you don’t come across as “is there anything that is going to make MY life harder this year?”  It is then time to move into what could cause the office to close and how you might prevent it.  Although a tricky subject with some people, it is important that you and your team are well vaccinated. According to the CDC Website on HealthCare Workers, you should encourage them to have the following:

  • Annual Flu Shot
  • Tdap- Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis
  • MMR- Measles, Mumps and Rubella
  • Hepatitis B
  • Varicella- chickenpox
  • Meningococcal (for those routinely exposed to N. meningitidis)

Discuss the effect that having 2 or more of the team sick at one time. What is the plan if this happens? What if it happens when someone else is on vacation?

Now it is time to get into the real tough discussion and that is staying open in an emergency. Many people will say “I should be home with my family” or “people are not going to come to the dental office” during an emergency — and in many cases that will be true. The reality, however, is that dental emergencies don’t wait for the weather to clear.  If your office is open when all others are closed, you should contact the TV and local radio stations and let them know you are open — chances are you will get some free publicity.  Your office may also be a place that your team and their families can use in the evening to feel safer.

So how do you plan to stay open?  The first item that needs to be tackled is obviously: power.  If you are in a freestanding building, by now you should have a generator. A generator that is powered by propane or natural gas is preferred, however, if you have room for liquid fuel than a gas or diesel generator is fine.  If you are in a shared space, you should sit down with the landlord and other tenants to see how you address the power situation. Do some homework before such a meeting and pull information on 2018 and the natural disasters that put small businesses into hardship by being closed.

When it comes to storms, most come with a warning, however, the warnings you are hearing are the same ones everyone else is.  It is not the time run to the store to buy water, food, blankets, batteries (if you don’t have a generator) and other items.  You should already have these items set aside, either in the office, at your house or someone on your team’s house.  There are lists of items you should have on your state’s Office of Emergency Preparedness website.

Have someone on your team (and a backup) responsible for the inventory.  It is wise to have expiration dates noted and rotate the stock.  If you are keeping gas at someone’s garage (very wise to do; at least 5 gallons for each team member) make sure there is stabilizer added to containers to expand the shelf life. Many team members will see what you are doing and replicate what the office is doing with their personal life.  Personally, I have 4 five-gallon containers filled in my garage.  During the Spring I put 5 gallons at a time into my cars and refill the containers before hurricane season.

Preparedness is often thought about around a storm and a power outage. Statistically, that is the most common reason for your office being down for more than a day. But it is not the only reason. Local flu epidemics can cripple your offices as well.  I am sure your offices all have adult and child masks in the waiting room with a sign that “if you are sick please wear a mask in the waiting area” RIGHT?

This article is like many of my other leadership ones, they are 80% common sense and 20% reminders of what you know you should be doing but need to be pushed. In this case, you have planned for all the ways to reach your budgeted goals but need to be reminded that you need to plan for things not going as planned.  Many of you will add a line on your budget, something like “unforeseen events” and put a negative number in.  What I am trying to get you to do, is be more specific to what those events might be. Once identified, how can you mitigate them by planning?

I wish you all a very successful 2019 in both your personal and professional lives.