The Department of Health and Human Services is accepting applications Oct. 5-Nov. 6 for the latest round of Provider Relief Funding intended to help health care providers suffering economic losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Phase-3 General Distribution funding is open for the first time to dentists who began practicing Jan. 1 through March 31. Dentists who rejected or did not apply during previous funding phases can also apply for the Phase-3 funds. Eligible dentists receive a reimbursement of approximately 2% of their annual reported patient revenue.
Additionally, providers who received Phase 1 and 2 payments can apply for add-on payment based on their assessed COVID-19-related expenses and revenue losses.
John Blake, DDS, executive director of the Children’s Dental Health Clinic based in Long Beach, applied last week for Phase-3 funding after applying for and receiving Phase-2 funding in June. The clinic received the maximum funding ― 2% of the clinic’s 2019 Medi-Cal fees for services revenue ― that Dr. Blake said “helped to fill the gap of decreased income and increased spending on PPE.”
The clinic started ordering items such as head and shoe coverings, which weren’t part of the clinic’s pre-COVID-19 supplies order, and nearly tripled its use of laundry service for gowns, for example.
But Blake also said clinic revenue remains down by around 20% because, like most dental practices in California, the clinic is seeing fewer patients to comply with social-distancing guidelines to help prevent spread of the coronavirus.
“It takes more time now to turn around a room compared to before, and that equates to loss of income,” he said. “We applied for Phase-3 funding to help make up for lost revenue from not being able to see as many patients as we could before COVID.”
Blake said the Phase-3 application was very similar to Phase 2 except that applicants need to provide comparative financial statements for quarters 1 and 2 of 2020 to show the change in revenue and expenses from year to year.
Now, he’s waiting to find out if the clinic will receive the Phase-3 funding but says if the process is anything like it was in Phase 3, he’ll find out his application was approved when the funds land in his account.
He advises his colleagues that they shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t receive notification or communication from HHS before they receive the funds.
In a poll CDA conducted in a member newsletter last month, 92% of dentists who said they applied for Provider Relief Funds during one of the first two phases reported that they received funding.
Darcy Kasner, DDS, is another of those dentists. She applied for Phase 2 after learning through CDA that the application deadline had been extended a third time. Several weeks later she received by direct deposit a payment equaling 2% of her practice’s annual reported patient revenue.
“Cashflow in the first one to two years is more difficult, and there was a lot of investment back into the office, such as for technology upgrades,” said Dr. Kasner, who owns a practice in Sacramento. “That’s why I’m very appreciative of the amount I received.”
Kasner said she is spending most of the funds on personal protective equipment, including surgical masks and gloves, but is also purchasing more items like disinfectant wipes. That spending is consistent with another recent CDA member poll in which nearly 46% of respondents who received Phase-1 or Phase-2 payments said they spent most of the funds on infection-control supplies. (37% said most of the funds went toward office equipment like HEPA filters and sneeze guards.)
“We’ve been spending a lot more on basic supplies that weren’t very expensive pre-pandemic. We’re wearing more gloves, changing our masks. My front-desk staff are using gloves and wipes to clean entryways and the credit card terminals between patients. In summary, we’re using more and doing more, and it’s costing more,” said Kasner.
Even though she says her office is now operating at about 85% capacity, she’s also reduced the number of chairs in the office to maintain required social distancing and still experiences what she calls the “unpredictable days” ― canceled appointments, staff shortage and other gaps in production ― that have led to lost revenue.
“Every extra bit is helpful right now,” Kasner added. “In a broader sense, it all goes toward preventing team burnout.”
Reports about the ease of applying for the funding are mixed, but Stephanie Sandretti, DDS, called the process “extremely easy” and said the application took about 15 minutes to complete with some assistance from her CPA.
Dr. Sandretti, who owns a practice in Roseville, offered this advice to Phase-3 applicants:
“Make sure you follow the directions exactly and consult with your financial advisors and CPA to ensure that the numbers you are providing are accurate. If you follow the instructions, the application is simple and nothing further needs to be done to get your money.”
Blake also called the application simple as long as applicants “have basic financial information and know how to access it. For him, as a Medi-Cal Dental provider, that meant prior year patient revenue, percentage of revenue from Medi-Cal, number of full-time-equivalent hours in broad job categories, the prior year’s tax return and current year Form 941s.
Because Sandretti only purchased her practice in November 2019, she said she did not receive an amount on par with dentists who’ve owned their practices for longer terms, but she was pleased with the quick turnaround from application to the direct deposit of her payment and said every little bit helps today.
Like Blake and Kasner, she primarily used the funding to purchase more PPE for herself and her staff and also stocked up on disinfecting supplies that had become depleted over the last several months. She applied this week for the Phase-3 add-on payment.
HHS allows funds to be spent in other areas as well, such as equipment, building structures, staff expansion and workforce training ― as long as the spending is used to cover lost revenue attributable to COVID-19 or health-related costs to prevent or respond to COVID-19.
Sandretti reminds dentists to complete the verification that they received the money. “You’ll need to acknowledge receipt and accept it through another document that is emailed a few weeks after the money is deposited,” she said.
She is speaking of HHS’ payment attestation. Provider Relief Fund recipients must accept the funds by agreeing to the terms and conditions within 90 days of receiving the payment.
Visit HHS’ relief fund page for providers for step-by-step instructions on applying, announcements about informational webinars and more. Applicants can also view or print the Phase-3 fact sheet for quick reference.
“If you meet the requirements to apply, then apply. It’s a grant that will help you during this pandemic,” Blake said.