Virtual membership meeting offers strategies for dental practice teams to prevent workplace violence

A recording of the meeting is available.
May 29, 2024
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In a live virtual meeting on May 9, CDA experts reviewed upcoming workplace violence prevention requirements and highlighted tools and resources available to CDA members that prioritize mental health, wellness and safety within our community.  Over 250 CDA member-dentists and their team members participated in the meeting.

Recent tragic events and resulting legislation have led business owners, including dentists, to think seriously about workplace violence. As a result, more than 250 member-dentists and their teams tuned in May 9 to a virtual CDA membership meeting on workplace violence prevention.

The meeting addressed three key areas specific to workplace safety in the dental practice: conflict resolution, mental health and wellness support and compliance with California’s new Workplace Violence Prevention Law. Information was presented by a panel of experts, CDA President Carliza Marcos, DDS, CDA Foundation Wellness Program Chair Matt Korn, DDS, and CDA Senior Regulatory Compliance Analyst Teresa Pichay.

Dealing with conflict

Dr. Marcos shared an incident that took place in her practice. A patient became upset when presented with a larger balance due for treatment than he had anticipated. He raised his voice, threw a pen and papers at a team member and stormed out, and everyone in the office felt threatened by his intimidating demeanor.

Marcos immediately acted. She dismissed the patient from her practice and installed security cameras inside and outside the office. Along with reviewing safety protocols during their next meeting, Marcos and her team examined the office financial protocols and scripting to avoid potentially volatile situations. “Violent behavior is never a healthy way to resolve conflict; however, whenever there is a disagreement with a patient, I think it’s important that we look back and see where we could take some accountability or tweak processes to avoid a similar upset,” she explained.

Dr. Korn reminded attendees of an important tool that can bolster office safety: written policies. “Be sure all of your policies are in writing and are clearly communicated so patients know what to expect and what’s expected of them,” he said. “Train the entire dental team on the office policies so that everyone is giving the same messaging to your patients.” Korn stressed the need for keeping financial policies up to date and explaining them to patients, providing clear cancellation policies and documenting all patient incidents with clear, detailed records.

Mental health and wellness support

Presenters emphasized that creating a safe environment for both patients and dental team members is vital to the psychological safety and trust of everyone in the practice. Mental illness or substance abuse can lead to aggressive, unsafe or unstable behavior, but workplace violence can be prevented by educating and training staff to recognize and respond effectively in those situations.

“The entire dental team can play an important part by creating a safe, non-judgmental environment, by being alert to potential signs of abuse and knowing how to respond appropriately when a patient or team member discloses information,” said meeting moderator Mary McCune, CDA policy director and Foundation executive director. “Team training and clear practice protocols are essential.”

The panelists shared several resources available to members who are facing their own mental health crises, including the CDA Foundation Wellness Program.

Recent legislation highlights the importance of prevention

By July 1, California employers must have a workplace violence prevention plan in place. The new law requires an employer to conduct an initial and annual physical hazard risk assessment and to develop a written prevention plan using information collected from the assessment and input of employees. The plan must be reviewed annually and updated when new risks and hazards become known. Initial and annual employee training is also required, and a violent incident log must be maintained.

Pichay offered recommendations for implementing the required plan and training, such as holding separate team meetings to address the physical hazard risk assessment and the written plan. She directed members to CDA’s sample risk assessment form and sample written plan on CDA.org, which can help jump start the safety plan process.

Additional resources

Members can also find resources on the Workplace Protection page on CDA.org, including options for developing plans addressing workplace conflicts, support for mental health and wellness issues and guidance on how to prepare for and respond to a sudden tragic event.

Members can also attend a workplace violence prevention course hosted June 13 by several local dental societies. The 90-minute course qualifies for 1.5 CEU and will help members implement a workplace violence prevention plan.

“The work we will do to train and prepare for violence prevention can help us better handle similar situations outside of the dental office,” Korn noted, recommending that CDA members log on to access and share the recorded webinar with their practice staff.

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