Dental clinics don’t qualify for COVID-19 small business grant in Nova Scotia

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia dentists feeling pinch of COVID-19 pandemic' Nova Scotia dentists feeling pinch of COVID-19 pandemic
WATCH: Like many small businesses, Nova Scotia’s dentists have been ordered closed by the provincial government. But to make matters worse, they don’t qualify for government assistance designed to keep small businesses afloat. Jesse Thomas has more. – Apr 16, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has hurt small businesses across Nova Scotia, forcing many to change its business plan or to close altogether.

In a step to ease the financial burden, the provincial government rolled out the COVID-19 small business impact grant to help businesses during the public emergency.

But not all small businesses qualify.

READ MORE: You can now apply for Nova Scotia’s worker fund and business grant

Dental clinics were excluded from receiving the grant and lumped into a group of other ineligible health care providers, like physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, pharmacies and paramedics.

“All of these health care professionals actually can work right now, dentists can not, so there were many questions raised as to why we were excluded,” said Dr. Joanne Thomas, president of the Nova Scotia Dental Association.

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Dentistry is unique. On one hand, they are a health care provider, but on the other, they operate as a small business.

It was in mid-March when the province mandated all dental clinics to shut down for the health and safety of not only the dental health professionals but also their clients — not surprising, given that COVID-19 is spread through liquid droplets.

No clients mean no business for Dr. Ian MacIntyre, a dentist and owner of Cobourg Dentistry in Halifax.

Business has come to a screeching stop and the revenue stream has gone dry, so MacIntrye was surprised to read his business wouldn’t qualify for the COVID-19 impact grant.

“I guess I’m just a little confused,” he said. “There’s really no explanation as to why, as a small business owner (we were left out) I was anticipating there would be some help.”

It’s a particularly challenging time for young dentists, who are trying to establish their business while managing educational debt and the cost of setting up a practice.

Dr. Amanda Hill graduated from Dalhousie Dental School in 2008 and opened her own practice River Hill Dental in New Glasgow, where she’s had to make a tough decision to temporarily layoff her six staff members.

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It’s a business decision but necessary to be able to reopen when things return to normal.

For the time being the bills like rent and utilities don’t go away along with a list of overhead costs unique to the dentistry profession.

“It’s very costly to run a dental office,” said Hill. “If you know your dental office well, we have sterilization, cleaning and staff and supplies, and very specialized equipment and it’s basically like a mini-hospital.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Nova Scotia-developed ventilator built in under three weeks, awaits approval

Some dental clinics have pandemic insurance like River Hill Dental but Hill says at this point it’s not clear what that pandemic coverage will payout.

“I would say 50 per cent or less have that [pandemic] policy in Nova Scotia,” said Hill. “But we have yet to see any pay our from that yet.”

The Nova Scotia Dental Association says they have spoken with the department of business and are hopeful the government can locate and roll out some support options for the dental industry.

Not unlike other small businesses some dental clinics are concerned they might risk closure.

“As Premier [Stephen] McNeil said, he wants small businesses to hit the ground running when we’re able to down the road,” said MacIntyre. “Certainly support from the provincial government would go a long way to getting us back on track when the time comes.”
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Global News reached out to the Minister of Business Geoff MacLellan for an interview but his office declined saying discussions with the dental association are ongoing.

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