The high costs of not wearing masks in the dental office

Masks are still required in health care settings, including dental offices. But what is the cost to your business if you fail to impose masking in your practice?

In many California communities, masks are no longer required at stores, schools and other public places. The absence of masks does not, unfortunately, signal an absence of the COVID-19 virus. Currently, California is seeing another surge in COVID-19 cases. Certain locations, like medical facilities and dental offices, have been determined by the California Department of Public Health to be areas of high risk for COVID-19 transmission.

Consistent with CDC guidelines, CDPH direction states that face masks are still required for everyone in specified high-risk settings, which include dental offices and all other health care settings — regardless of vaccination status. Despite evidence that properly worn masks can slow the spread of aerosol-borne viruses like COVID-19, some dental patients, employees and dental practice owners are hesitant to comply with in-office mask use.

CDA’s risk management experts point out that in addition to compliance with Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS), following in-office mask guidance can save practice owners money.

What is the cost to your business if you fail to impose masking in your practice?

  • Loss of productivity. When a staff member has an unplanned absence due to COVID-19 or another illness, the rest of the practice team must share the burden of their duties. The longer an employee is absent, the less productive other employees become.
  • Loss of income. A lack of productivity due to the unplanned absence of an employee can quickly waterfall into loss of revenue if patients must be rescheduled for procedures. Productivity and revenue are most at risk if a dentist falls ill with COVID-19.
  • Increased insurance premiums. If a staff member falls ill because of poor infection control practices, this is a reportable injury and could be considered a workers’ compensation claim. It is simply a financial fact that more claims lead to greater insurance costs, which is why robust safety programs in all areas of your dental practice protect employees and revenue.

Workers’ compensation is not the only type of insurance policy that has the potential for claims due to COVID-19 infections if health care facilities fail to comply with infection control practices. A California appeals court just permitted a wrongful death suit to go forward that was based on an employee’s claim that their exposure in the workplace to COVID-19 had led to the death of their spouse from COVID-19. In such a case, it’s likely that the secondary suit will need to be covered by a liability policy.

Considering how quickly COVID-19 cases can spread, it makes sense to do everything possible to minimize risk by following recommended infection control guidelines to minimize the cost of increased claims across multiple insurance policies.

  • Paid time off for employees. While paid time off for employees is a basic right under California law, the state of California requires employers with 26 or more employees to offer supplemental sick leave for time off related to COVID-19. Employees who are unable to work due to workplace exposure are also eligible for exclusion pay under Cal/OSHA’s ETS. Research by the Integrated Benefits Institute shows that in 2021, American employers spent $5 billion in estimated absent employee benefit spending for employers due to the pandemic.
  • Patient retention and community reputation. If patients are uncomfortable receiving treatment from unmasked caregivers, they are more likely to seek care elsewhere. There is also the chance that a practice’s reputation in the community may suffer for not abiding by infection control guidelines and keeping patients and staff safe. Practice owners who have worked hard to build and grow their patient base understand how important a stellar reputation is to maintaining patient trust and growth through referrals.

As California and global communities continue to deal with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, prevention of infection is still paramount. Rising costs of doing business during challenging times can be mitigated by following infection control guidelines.

Resources

CDA’s expert analysts have developed downloadable templates, posters and other resources to help members communicate face-covering and other requirements to patients. In addition, CDA has updated its COVID-19 Prevention Plan to reflect guidance in the new ETS that took effect earlier this month. Practice leaders can use this customizable plan as an addendum to the practice’s existing injury and illness prevention plan, both of which satisfy the Cal/OSHA requirements.

The Dentists Insurance Company also offers tools to help practice leaders navigate Workers’ Compensation claims. TDIC policyholders can download Workers’ Compensation resources and file claims quickly online.

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