Coping With COVID-19: Ronald E. Duffin, DDS

Dr. Ronald Duffin waits for his next patient in one of the examination rooms at his Hemet dental practice. Valley News/Diane A. Rhodes photo

Even when people were asked to stay home due to the coronavirus pandemic, some didn’t have a choice because they needed to seek emergency medical or dental care. Some dentists, such as Dr. Ronald Duffin in Hemet, were available to treat patients.

Duffin, born and raised in Hemet, returned to his hometown after completing his higher education to open his dental practice 30 years ago.

Learning curve

When the pandemic first took hold, many businesses struggled to find out how it would affect them.

“We were asked to close down, except for emergency services, on March 20,” Duffin said. “We only had a day or two warning this would happen.”

While considered an essential service for certain cases, Duffin and his staff sought health guidelines to keep their patients updated on when they could return for regular cleanings, check-ups and ongoing dental maintenance.

During this time, office manager Jennifer Coffman worked in the office once a week to reschedule appointments and keep up with insurance claims’ paperwork.

Dr. Ronald Duffin poses for a photo in the waiting room of his Hemet dental practice, which is not being used due to COVID-19 restrictions. He removed his face covering for the photograph and was more than 6 feet away. Valley News/Diane A. Rhodes photo

Management changes

The practice was given the green light to fully reopen, May 26, with heightened safety precautions in place. The lobby was closed to waiting patients and guests. A shade canopy and socially distanced chairs were set up outside the practice’s locked door. Patients are requested to call upon arrival. Coffman was required to check patients’ temperatures at the door before they could enter the building.

She said patients were asked to sign a COVID-19 acknowledgement and wash their hands at the examination room sink before being seated. Facial coverings are required to be worn until the dentist enters the room.

Duffin said his year-to-date business is down 30% compared to this time last year, and he’s had a 50% reduction in employees. Coffman has worked with Duffin for six years and is one of three remaining staff members.

“He is a wonderful man to work for,” she said. “In my 32 years of dentistry, he’s the best. Vicki has been his hygienist for over 21 years and Sonia, his lead assistant, has been with him for 10 years.”

Dr. Ronald Duffin and his office manager, Jennifer Coffman, pose for a photo in the reception area of his dental practice in Hemet. Valley News/Diane A. Rhodes photo

Staying healthy

Duffin said his office follows all guidelines set forth by the California Dental Association, who coordinates with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have always worn masks and gloves and used disinfectants, but now we have higher-rated face masks and wear (plastic) face shields, too,” Duffin said. “We come to the office in our ‘street clothes’ and change into work scrubs, which are laundered at the end of each day. We set up our own in-house laundromat as a result of COVID-19.”

He said that office staff login daily for the same COVID-19 screening his patients complete.

Coffman said that in addition to an officewide high-powered air purification system, they also dispensed with all paper products. Forms that were filled out by patients and filed are now done by iPad and stored electronically. A protective Plexiglas barrier has been installed at the reception window in the lobby.

After every patient visit, Coffman goes through the room and wipes everything down. She said the staff has always been good about keeping things clean, but now they take extra care by putting disposable barriers on examination chairs and wrapping neck pillows and covering keyboards in each room.

Weathering the storm

“We have had very steady support from our patients,” Duffin said. “We are currently able to provide full-time care. We love our patients and are accepting new ones.”

When asked to recall the worst thing that has happened to him personally as a result of COVID-19, he replied, “We lost my friend and business partner, George Gray.”

Duffin’s dental practice, 550 E. Latham Ave., Suite 2, in Hemet is open Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, call 951-765-6232 or visit