Leadership in Crisis

Kelsey Creehan Featured News

By Jeff Kahl, D.D.S., CDA Immediate Past President
From the Spring/Summer 2020 Journal of the Colorado Dental Association

An organization’s leadership, resolve and overall ethical fiber are never tested more than in times of crisis. Organizations are also never judged more than when the whole membership is in panic mode. Seldom do the right decisions get recognized as being the best decisions until after the fact. And while the easy path in making decisions is saying the most popular thing in the moment or saying what the angry crowd would like to hear, that path often takes a wrong turn. Success in crisis takes a clear head, patience and thick skin. Only on the other side, when the crisis is over and the dust has settled, can we look back at the direction that was taken, the decisions that were made, and the adverse events that happened (or never happened).

I am proud of organized dentistry in Colorado. We were quick to recognize that the COVID-19 global pandemic was going to impact every industry and individual in Colorado. As such the long-term solution was not going to be something that could be cobbled together quickly and emotionally. Nor was it something we could ignore by pretending that dental offices were somehow immune to the infective nature of this novel virus. We knew from the beginning that the goal for a return to practice would be close to, but not the same as, the pre-COVID world. That return, however, would not be immediate. We needed to look at the whole picture and acknowledge that our role would need to be one of patience and thoughtful planning. The road to recovery would have many phases. To be heard by the officials who mattered, we needed to be more than dentists, we needed to be healthcare leaders. Given the number of stakeholders involved we realistically never expected to get everything we wanted at every phase, but we did commit to moving forward purposefully.

An undertaking of this magnitude was bigger than the CDA Executive Committee, in fact it was bigger than dentistry as a whole. This was not the time to dwell on the petty grudges that some members might have with other organizations—if we were going to effective, we had to bring the industry together with one common goal and direction. The COVID-19 Emergency Taskforce that we established was loaded with professionals who were committed to making sure that oral health professionals and the public were cared for and protected. This taskforce included leadership from not only the CDA, but from our biggest components MDDS and CSDS, the Dentists Professional Liability Trust, DORA, CDPHE, Delta Dental of Colorado, the CU School of Dental Medicine, Colorado Community Oral Health Network, the ADA and our oral health partners at the Colorado Dental Hygienists’ Association.

The members of that group were challenged with the task of managing HR issues, easing financial fears, ensuring provider wellbeing, navigating a constantly changing legal landscape and planning for a safe return to the office. They threw themselves into the task and worked tirelessly without complaint for over two months. Over 5,000 hours were invested by staff and given by volunteers to get us to the point of being the second state in the nation to meaningfully open for dental treatment. People outside of that group may never really understand the challenges of this undertaking or the heavy-handed regulation that dental professionals didn’t have to deal with because we addressed it before it happened. We’ve continued to fight and advocate for policy that makes sense for Colorado. We haven’t always gotten the answer we wanted immediately, but we’ve stayed the course and pushed on.

Today, thanks to the initiative and leadership of those individuals we are solidly in the mid-term phase of dental recovery in Colorado. We still have work to do, but I know for a fact that we are in better shape than most states. National organizations have noticed what organized dentistry is doing in Colorado, and they’re taking notes.

Thank you to the leaders of the dental profession in Colorado. You proved that when we work together, great things happen.