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‘Nonessential’ businesses forced to close, limit treatment

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Chiropractors, dentists and eye doctors are limited or forbidden from treating patients during pandemic

By Stevie Lowery

Many local businesses were forced to close last month due to the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Many of those businesses were considered “non-essential,” such as gyms, hair salons and nail salons. But, there have been businesses forced to close that many people consider essential to their health and quality of life.

Dr. Jeff Roberts was forced to close his chiropractic clinic in Lebanon on March 20. Since then, Dr. Roberts has been receiving messages from patients every single day, pleading for his help.

“Some are begging to just be seen one time because they are hurting so bad,” he said. “Some are essential workers that are unable to work due to not being able to move.”

But, orders from Governor Andy Beshear’s office were clear. Dr. Roberts is not allowed to see patients at his office, at his house, or at a patient's home.

“I love my job, but I'm going to follow the rules,” he said.

Dr. Roberts, as well as many of his patients, have reached out to the governor’s office in hopes of receiving some sort of an exemption so that he could at least see patients on an emergency basis. But, their attempts have been unsuccessful, so far.

“It's a catch 22,” Dr. Roberts said. “If I left patients like this on my own, it would be ‘abandonment,’ and that is against the law. I can understand not being able to see all our patients, but there are some that will have to resort to narcotics since we are unable to see them. With the opioid crisis in Kentucky and the addictive nature of these drugs, chiropractic is a viable alternative to the risk of a potential addiction. It would be nice to at least be able to see a patient on an emergency basis if the need arises.”

According to Roberts, currently, Kentucky and Colorado are the only states where chiropractors are not allowed to see patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When we were notified that we were going to be forced to close we called the patients that we knew would have a rough time without care,” he said. “We even had a couple drive down from Indiana for treatment on our last day of being open.”

For his patients that have been struggling with pain while he’s been closed, Roberts has been advising them to use heat or ice, and suggesting exercises for them to do to help with their condition. 

“If bad enough, I've advised patients to go to their family physician for potential pharmaceutical intervention,” he said. “It's tough when a patient is begging for your help. I just wish we were allowed to see patients on an emergency basis during this trying time.”

Dr. Roberts believes he would be able to operate his chiropractic clinic safely. Before he was forced to close, he and his staff structured his office so that patients would not be within six feet of each other. And, everything was disinfected between patients. But, he obviously wouldn’t be able to follow social distancing guidelines when working with his patients. But, he still thinks he could keep his patient and himself safe.

“If the patient and I are both wearing masks, then I don't think it would be a problem, especially with the amount of hand washing and disinfecting that is performed,” Dr. Roberts said. “I feel the office is much more sanitary than a store or gas station.”

Gov. Beshear has said no decision has been made on the timing for reopening Kentucky’s economy, adding that he will rely on the expertise of public health leaders to make any determination.

Until his clinic is allowed to open again, Dr. Roberts has said he’s been relegated to being the math teacher for his nine-year-old daughters.

“My girls and wife have enjoyed me being able to be around and help around the house,” he said. “I've completed every task on my to do list, and have been able to exercise more with the additional free time.”

Dental care

Dr. Philip H. Zink II said he’s also been knocking out chores on his wife’s “honey do list” in the past month.

“My personal goal is to make her have to work hard to have things for me to do,” he said.

Dr. Zink said he and his wife, Emily, have also discovered how much content they have forgotten from school.

“I personally remember now how much I dislike algebra,” he said.

Since March 18, Lebanon Family Dental Care has only been allowed to see patients in emergency situations, according to Dr. Zink. And, that could have lasting implications for many of his patients.

“The guidelines that have been imposed on us limit us to addressing conditions, which if not addressed within 30 days, could lead to irreparable harm to a patient,” Dr. Zink said. “These limits force us to delay treatment that, if it were performed now, would be relatively simple and straight forward to address. This delay will inevitably lead to the condition worsening and result in more invasive and more expensive treatment for the patient at a later date.”

While it’s impossible for dentists to perform their duties and follow social distancing guidelines given by the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Zink said he and his staff take many precautions to keep their patients and themselves safe.

“Dentistry has developed a number of protocols we use to limit the spread of any infection, not just COVID-19,” he said. “Some of these precautions are the use of gloves, masks, high volume suction, sterilization of instruments and disinfection of treatment rooms between patients.”

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Zink said he and his staff have implemented additional layers to their infection control polices, which include eliminating the waiting room, taking a patient’s temperature, and having patients wash their hands and orally rinse with hydrogen peroxide upon arriving to the office.

“We are monitoring our own temperatures daily as well as washing our hands immediately upon entering the office,” he said. “We are also showering prior to leaving for the day to ensure we don’t take home anything we may have been exposed to while treating a patient.”

Dr. Zink said all of his patients have been understanding, but it’s been tough turning patients away due to the governor’s orders.

“It is difficult to tell people that the problem they have isn’t considered an urgent need, as defined by the guidelines, and treatment will have to be postponed,” Dr. Zink said. “The majority of our patients have understood the constraints we are working under and have taken whatever palliative steps we have recommended for their problem until a time we are allowed to treat their condition.”

Eyecare

The 20/20 EyeCare office in Lebanon hasn’t closed, but it has limited its hours, and continued operating for emergency care only, according to Jessica Klein, who runs the marketing department for 20/20 EyeCare.

“Our optometrists are committed to be available to help patients throughout this pandemic,” she said. “While some eye doctors shut down entirely, we wanted to ensure we could still assist people with medical issues, or those who may have emergencies regarding their eyeglasses or contact lenses at this time. To that end, we quickly launched a telehealth option for patients who need to speak with one of our doctors about certain medical eye conditions, from the comfort and safety of their homes.”

According to Klein, 20/20 EyeCare plans on being open for eye exams in the near future. For now, the staff continues to take phone calls from patients and are active on social media answering questions.

“Most patients wonder how they may be able to obtain more contact lenses if they're running low, or are in need of eyeglass adjustments for broken frames,” Klein said. “We are taking those requests as they come and helping out as much as we safely can.”

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