Dentists, oral surgeons, periodontists, dental hygienists and other related health professionals who work inside patient’s mouths are among those with the greatest risk of becoming infected with COVID-19, according to a recent article in The New York Times, “The Workers Who Face the Greatest Corona Virus Risk.” The tasks of their occupation require them to be in close physical proximity to patient’s mouths and noses, where they are most likely to be exposed to the virus. In addition, the spray of aerosols and particulates will further complicate the environment’s safety.
Dental, oral surgery and related medical offices were closed for significant periods to slow the spread of this new and deadly virus. But now states are starting to open up. What happens next to the dental profession?
Most offices will likely re-open with stringent protections and policies in place. Many offices have always used PPE as standard practice, but now gloves and masks won’t be enough. Spit shields and full PPE gowns may be donned. Patients may be screened before they walk in the door, and sneeze guards will likely be installed in reception areas.
In our practice, we speak with a large number of dentists who find themselves in a precarious position. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they were considering filing a disability claim, ready to stop working because of back, neck and/or shoulder issues, or struggling with wrist and elbow conditions that effected their skills and potentially impacted the care provided to patients. Others were preparing to file a claim because of illnesses, like cardiovascular disease or diabetes.
Their disability claims will now find an even more challenging environment.
Environmental Claims: A dentist, oral surgeon, etc., with underlying conditions like diabetes, auto-immune disorders, or a cardiovascular condition is at even higher risk of dying from COVID-19. Their returning to the workplace could put their life at risk. This is a very real concern, but does it rise to the level of disability? Expect disability insurance companies to deny these claims, but certainly expect strong push back and the need for powerful medical support.
Musculoskeletal Disability Claim: This is a common occurrence with dentists. They work for years with pain, but kept on going. When they are able to take a break, i.e., go on vacation or attend a professional conference, their condition improves. When they cannot work through the pain, they go for physical therapy, and it helps. But once they are back at work on a full-time basis, the injury is exacerbated and they struggle again.
Residual Claims: A number of our dental clients are on residual claim, that is, they are receiving a portion of their disability benefit and are working on a reduced hours basis. They are facing a particularly challenging issue now. Their disability insurance coverage is based on their earnings, and having been closed for much of March and all of April and May, their earnings are severely impacted. If any income calculation includes these months, their benefits will be dramatically reduced.
We encourage anyone who is in the dental profession to contact our office at 877-583-2524 to speak with a partner about their disability claim. It is far better to have this conversation in advance and prepare a claim with the help of a skilled disability attorney than to appeal a denied claim.