New Space Brings Big Smiles

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With its very own dedicated floor in the Floating Hospital’s new locale, the spiffy new dental clinic gives patients something to smile about

While healthcare during the Covid-19 pandemic was incredibly difficult to navigate for both patients and providers, dental care took an especially hard hit as New York State mandated office shutdowns starting March 20, excepting only dental emergencies.

“At one point, we were only providing emergency dental care during the pandemic. That was very challenging. People still had needs. Once the ban was lifted, we were able to start seeing our patients again,” says Ernesto Hart, dental clinic manager. “One cool thing we did here was give our dental patients a rapid covid test each time they’d see a dentist, which is really great for both the patient and the staff.”

Another challenging aspect was providing care and performing public-health safety protocols in a small space, with outdated equipment and dental software. The move and much-needed upgrades has helped Hart and his team to build back serving 28 patients a day between the two on-staff dentists.

But now, after a roller coaster year of pitfalls, including shutdowns and staff shortages, the Floating Hospital’s new dental clinic, which opened last month on its very own floor, meant not just getting back to good oral hygiene, but doing so with new state-of-the-art chairs, three of which were generously funded by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, and equipment that ups the ante on dental care for the city’s most vulnerable populations. Now staffed with two dentists, the practice is ready to handle a pent-up demand from patients who had to put their oral hygiene on hold during the pandemic. Patients may arrive on their own or be referred through another one of the integrated clinics at the new site.

“The dental clinic and the other services of the Floating Hospital are very holistic in the best sense,” says Hart. “Medical, dental and behavioral – taking care of the body, the mouth and the mind!”

Hart says future plans include adding another dental provider and additional staff, and expand into oral surgery and orthodontics specialties. Kids are part of the future, too. “We hope to raise funds to make one of the dental rooms more child-friendly, and hopefully develop it to full pediatric dentistry.”

collage of images of tfh dentistry

Happy young patient; Dentistry aboard hospital circa 1940s; Who’s afraid of the dentist? Not her

All about “Ernie”

With 30 years of service, Ernesto “Ernie” Hart is the Floating Hospital’s longest-tenured employee. Hart started as a dental assistant intern and through the years has worked as dental coordinator, patient benefit counselor, and in patient registration and outreach. Now manager of the dental clinic, Hart is the chairman for the Floating Hospital core values committee.

Hart recalls then and now days of the clinic.

“The best thing about being on the ship was every Friday of July and August when we had our summer sails for our patients. It was so much fun to provide dental, medical, health education and other services and fun activities while the boat went around the Hudson River. The best thing about our land-based clinic is that the scope of services we offer to our patients have expanded from mostly preventative to more in-depth dental services.

— Amy Zavatto

Since 1866, The Floating Hospital has been the largest provider of healthcare and education to families living with homelessness. Based in Long Island City, it provides comprehensive primary, dental and behavioral-health services, and health-education to patients living in more than 300 shelters and domestic violence safe houses throughout New York City.

In 2021, The Floating Hospital moved into a new modern main clinic in Long Island City, and continue to support patients in satellite clinics at family homeless shelters and public housing complexes in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

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