Organized dentistry protects colleagues suffering wildfire losses

TDIC, CDA Foundation and local components ‘truly care about me’

California’s 2018 wildfires damaged and destroyed property and claimed lives in many areas throughout the state. The Nov. 8 Camp Fire in Paradise is the most destructive in state history, claiming at least 85 lives and burning nearly 19,000 structures. The fire chewed through 153,336 acres — homes, schools, churches and businesses, including nine dental practices and one clinic.

“It started as a regular day with a denture adjustment,” said Michael Viale, DDS, whose Paradise practice was located on the now infamous Skyway road that trapped fleeing residents. “At 8:15, my hygienist got word to pick up her kids from school due to a fire in the area.”

The sheriff’s department soon delivered evacuation orders and Dr. Viale left his practice of 27 years and snaked his way home to Chico on clogged back routes that flames had yet to reach.

Two days later, a California Department of Forestry firefighter informed Viale that the wildfire destroyed his practice. It also claimed the homes of three employees, who no longer had places to work or live.

“At that point in time we knew 90 percent of the town was gone,” said Viale.

Shortly afterward, Viale arranged a meeting with Paradise dentists to discuss patient care and next steps. He invited TDIC representatives, who had already called all Paradise policyholders to check on their welfare.

“TDIC was on the stick — they were very responsive. I was surprised when they handed us rather large checks for an advance on loss of income for my staff and me,” said Viale. “Because I’m with TDIC, my hygienists and assistants will have their salaries covered, and that means a lot to me because I spend as much time with them as I do my family, and some of them lost their homes.”

In recent years, Brad Reager, vice president of TDIC Claims and Risk Management, has made similar visits to local components to check on dentists threatened by wildfires in Sonoma, Ventura, Napa, West Los Angeles, San Fernando, Red Bluff and most recently, Chico. He said the “gut-wrenching” Camp Fire was the worst, destroying six policyholder practices.

“They were grateful for the coverage and more grateful that no one lost family or staff members — everything else is replaceable and that’s why we’re here for them,” said Reager, who grew up in Chico.

Nearby at the Northern California Dental Society in Red Bluff, Executive Director Vi Gilbert contacted more than 100 area dentists with missing-persons lists to locate patient records to assist coroners with identifications. She also coordinated available operatory schedules for Paradise dentists to take care of their patients.

“I have a list of dentists from Chico, Oroville, Red Bluff, Corning and surrounding areas who have told me, ‘If a dentist wants to come and use my operatories, here are the days I’m available,’” said Gilbert. “The outpouring of support from fellow dentists has been phenomenal in offering temporary housing and office space.”

The NCDS also provided monetary assistance to Paradise dentists, many of whom lost their homes or practices and, in some cases, both.

The CDA Foundation offers a Disaster Relief Grant of up to $5,000 to dentists, dental staff and component staff members with immediate and emergency needs. Applicants who lose homes and have dependents are eligible for additional funding. The Foundation received more than 50 grant applications from individuals affected by the Camp and Woolsey fires.

As a recipient of the Foundation grant, Ron Zufall, DDS, of Redding has heartfelt appreciation for CDA’s role in helping him with immediate disaster-related expenses. The July 2018 Carr Fire near Redding destroyed a rental home where he was living a mere nine months after an electrical fire destroyed his home of 22 years. Dr. Zufall says the grant was “a blessing” because his son Andrew lost all of his furniture and belongings in the garage just one week before moving to Pomona to start dental school at Western University. 

“Part of that grant was used to help Andrew and his wife replace the belongings they lost before starting professional school,” said Zufall. “I know Andrew will pay it forward. He’ll be a big supporter of organized dentistry. He’s grown up around it and has seen how it’s helped me.”

Viale echoed that sentiment.

“It’s nice to see how my colleagues have stepped up to help us. I appreciate that and I appreciate CDA and TDIC,” he said.

Shortly after the Camp Fire, Viale resumed teaching part time at the University of Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, where he gathered students for a morning huddle with a powerful message.

“I said, ‘Hey, you millennials don’t seem to be involved in organized groups. Get involved in organized dentistry. I’m getting my insurance through CDA’s company TDIC, and these people are taking care of me because they care about me,’” said Viale. “’Where ever you go, you need to get involved in your dental society.’”

Readers who wish to contribute to the relief efforts through the Disaster Relief Grant can text RELIEFGRANT to 91999 or visit cdafoundation.org/donate to donate online.

Coverage under any policy of insurance is determined based on the terms of the policy and specific facts of each claim of loss. 

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The CDA Foundation is accepting applications for the Disaster Relief Grant. The grant assists dentists, dental staff and component staff members with immediate and emergency needs as a direct result of the Camp Fire in Northern California’s Butte County and the Woolsey and Hill fires affecting Ventura and Los Angeles counties. The one-time, single-installment grant provides financial assistance of up to $5,000. Applicants who have lost a home may request additional funds for dependent, immediate family members.