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QUESTION: I’m a dental hygienist who was working one day a week for a small practice with one dentist. The practice is in a very old building and has not been updated in decades. I understand the constraints of money, but the dentist refused to get rid of the carpeting in operatories, provide any proper ventilation, or update office infection control protocols. He did not clean or run suction lines as it was problematic for the plumbing. He refuses to follow CDC COVID-19 protocols—he does not take temperatures of employees or patients, and we don’t ask screening questions.
The last straw for me was when I found a live mouse in the drawer of a hygiene room! He did not seem concerned and did not care. He laughed and asked if the mouse freaked me out. I never went back again, and he was actually shocked that I quit. This was a drawer with gauze, floss, suction tips, and all things that go in patients’ mouths.
I am disgusted and I want to know if I have a duty to report him. I feel sick thinking about what could happen to patients. I live in a small town so I fear any backlash that might occur if I report him.
ANSWER FROM DIANNE GLASSCOE WATTERSON, MBA, RDH, GC-C, Watterson Speaking and Consulting:
Unfortunately, I’ve heard from a number of hygienists who report that their dental practices reopened to the same infection prevention protocols that existed prior to COVID. I don’t get it. I mean, surely dental practice owners know that this pandemic is real and many people have died due to the infection. Surely they understand that we need to modify our former routines to keep patients and staff members safe. I guess there are some who are just apathetic nonbelievers who are unwilling to spend the money to make necessary modifications. It usually comes down to costs.
You did the right thing by leaving. In the current employment environment, it should not be difficult for you to find another job.
Whether you should report this employer is up for discussion. You certainly are within your rights as a former employee to report his gross negligence in refusing to modify the office protocol. I did a little digging on your state’s Dental Board website and found this information.
“Complaints about businesses not adhering to reopen state guidelines are not within the jurisdiction of this unit to investigate. For complaints related to businesses not adhering to reopen state guidelines, visit this link. When you open the link, you will find this information:
“If you've visited a business in your state and witnessed a violation of COVID safety rules, please fill out this complaint form to let us know. Enforcement authority for the state’s COVID protocols depends on the type of business and who is making the complaint. This form will route you to where to go to formally make your complaint. You can view all the current COVID safety requirements that businesses must follow here.
“Please note that all information entered on this business complaint form is considered public information pursuant to the state’s Freedom of Information statutes. If you wish to stay anonymous when submitting a complaint about a business in violation, do not include your name or contact information.”
As you can see, you can file an anonymous complaint. However, since you’ve left the job, it would not be hard for the doctor to figure out who filed the complaint. There are whistleblower laws in every state that are designed to protect people who report employment violations, etc., from retaliation. But if you think there’s a chance that such reporting will compromise your ability to work in your area, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons.
This office sounds totally disgusting, and this doctor’s attitude is certainly in need of an adjustment. The only advice I can give without reservation is that you should refrain from discussing this situation with future employers as this may be construed as defamation.
(By the way, "fun" mouse fact: did you know that mice do not have bladders? That’s why they leave a little urine trail everywhere they go. This urine trail attracts snakes, as they love a nice mouse lunch.)
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