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“Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Patti” playing the periodontal practice pandemic

Aug. 12, 2020
“Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Patti,” aka Patti Donahoe, RDH, BS, gives a play-by-play account of the game transitioning a periodontal practice during a pandemic.

So, what did you do during this pandemic? Since we all have been missing sports so much, I am going to tell you my adrenaline-pumping, heart-racing, Hail Mary pass tale. With just a few games left to complete my 40th winning season as a dental hygienist, I was given the football on the one-yard line with hardly any time on the clock. This is where my story begins…

I was recruited 40 years ago from Thomas Jefferson Dental Hygiene School to be on this team. Our quarterback had accrued 53 years of surgical experience and had a great arm to handle every “quadrant” on the playing field. We were the Super Bowl winning team from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—a true curtain of steel. We worked hard as a unit and brought our A game each day. The fans loved us! Our well-seasoned quarterback, Dr. Anthony Cherrone, was always ready. He knew how to get the job done and ensure the pass landed in the deepest “pocket.” He was able to lead our team and “curette” plays and “plane” the field in all situations.

But then it happened. Our quarterback decided to retire at the beginning of COVID-19! We had our last game in a few weeks and the fans would be there! We needed another quarterback! We needed someone to lead our team!

Start the clock…

Team Perio runs out on the field. We might be a small team but we are mighty! We have thousands of fans, friends, and patients cheering us on. But we are the underdog, a team of only six up against tough competition—a David and Goliath story.

The whistle blows, the kick… Doc catches the kick but he is down on the first yard line with no one open to take a pass. We have no buyers for the practice. He’s hit hard and shaken up. 

He gets up and we huddle to get a play. Let’s try contacting the University of Pittsburgh Dental School that has a periodontal program.

Tossed out of bounds. No yardage. 

We huddle again. Let’s try a hand off to me; let me interview with all the local periodontists and see if I can make at least a first down. 

Fumble. Not the right play.

Let’s try contacting other companies who may have larger connections in practice purchasing.

Tackled with no yardage gained. No luck.

The clock is ticking and we have to make a play. What about the equipment? What are we going to do with the equipment and supplies?

Then, first down! We finally gain some yardage. Brother’s Brother, a nonprofit organization, was contacted to see if they would be interested in four dental chairs, three x-ray units, and all the equipment in our 11-room space. They said they would, but because of the pandemic, they were closed.

A fumble, but the ball is recovered!

We need an Immaculate Reception. Come on, throw the ball…

We brainstorm the play. A patient shared during his last dental visit that his church may be interested in opening a free dental clinic in our area. We put the play together. They wanted the ball.

We line up, sweat in our face, determination in our eyes…

The ball is snapped. It’s a Hail Mary…

It’s a catch! Score! Finally! We find a home for our equipment and supplies! We can see all the Terrible Towels waving and everyone on their feet! 

As quickly as we get back on track… false start! Offense! Five-yard penalty! 

It is not long before we find ourselves behind again. Always against the clock. Now into the third quarter, no one in sight to throw the ball. What are the patients going to do? What am I going to do? We need a great play. We need this to be our game changer.

I know where I want to be and reach out to the one office that I feel is best for me and our patients.

We go for it! The ball is thrown to Integrated Periodontics and Dental Implants, Drs. James Di Perna, Amber Foronda, and David Hay. They have two offices in the Pittsburgh area and one in close proximity to our office! They are board certified in periodontics and dental implant surgery. They are committed to providing conservative and effective periodontal, cosmetic, and dental implant care for their patients with a focus on “compassionate and individualized treatment.” They are our quarterbacks!

Score! Caught immediately! Best play ever! Solid catch! Not a defender in sight!

We need the field goal kick to win the game. Straight through the goal posts by Dr. Bill Garver, general dentist! His office has experienced, caring professionals with the latest technology to put our patients’ smiles out there—front and center—for everyone to see!

We found our new quarterbacks and field goal kicker!

Our team, our patients, and I need to regroup. After 40 years, we need new plays. Our old playbooks are in the past. We had paper charts, were insurance based, had traditional radiographs, made phone call confirmations, had a great training program, periodontal treatments, and implants, had a small-team approach, right-handed room, made immediate phone calls to review plays with referrals, and the best fans! Now we are all electronic plays, digital radiographs, and CT scans, text message confirmations, clock time check-ins and -outs, Open Dental, chart and plan with a large-team approach, sinus lifts, left-handed room, learning the signals of a new quarterback and kicker, and more computer time vs. game time. This is a huge change for our team.

I need to step up my game with these two new leaders. I need to learn their plays and show how I can help this team get to the playoffs. I need to begin more cross-training to bring my original patients up-to-date with this new system. I need to dig deep to continue being a starter. I don’t want to be on the bench.

My lesson from this experience is to stay conditioned. I may be a seasoned player, but the game is always changing. I need to continue learning the newest plays to stay in the starting lineup. It has been a challenge, but I will keep pushing myself to be my best and always be there for our fans and team! Always keep yourself game-ready because you never know when you will lose a quarterback in your life. The game clock doesn’t stop. And I am so thankful to be on a new team!

Patti Donahoe, RDH, BS, is a licensed dental hygienist with 40 years of experience in one periodontal practice. She has been an active member of her local dental hygiene association as an officer each year since graduation. Her years of volunteering in her profession, church, daughter’s sports teams and schools have helped prepare her for this new phase of her life.