A hygienist with a mission and a vision
by Noel Brandon Kelsch, RDHAP
When you walk into the California bungalow style building that houses Lisa Klockenteger’s dental hygiene practice, you cannot help but feel like you have just arrived at your favorite aunt’s home. The architecture of this green gabled building with a sloping roof takes you to another place and time. The front of the building is surrounded by a large porch that has wicker chairs for clients to relax in and enjoy the smell of lavender that fills the garden and the air. The ambiance is soft and clean with white and cream covering the walls; lace curtains and eclectic antiques surround you. This is a place of health, comfort, and care. Every attention to detail has been addressed.
Lisa continued this theme throughout the office, bringing in the California classic bungalow colors of rust, burgundy, and a touch of pink and blue hues. Attention to every detail is evident, from an antique plate holder converted into a chart holder to a rustic desk converted into a sink. Lisa has recycled and reused while keeping the feel of the 1920s. A major emphasis is on infection control. The flooring, made of a nonporous material that looks like solid wood from the 1920s, is in keeping with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. This building is fully handicapped accessible.
The airy, cream-colored staff room is a converted parlor. It is surrounded on two sides by open windows that face the willow trees lining the street. An antique birch table with a blooming purple violet resting on it gives everyone a place to sit and relax during breaks. Each of the two operatories are pieces of art in themselves. Lisa has lined them with the necessary dental equipment and touches of era artwork and converted antiques that function as everything from a side table to the operatory sink. As you sit in the chair and recline, the ceiling reflects the Victorian craftsmanship in fine woodwork that covers the ceiling. The air is filled with that slight hint of lavender you felt as you walked through the garden.
Lisa’s office is like entering an English garden covered with a collection of tea cups. It is accented with a full-size adobe fireplace and an oak desk that makes you want to sit and stay to visit with the person who put this room together. The dark oak cabinets make you feel the strength of this practice.
Lisa became a registered dental hygienist in alternative practice (RDHAP) in 2004 after 22 years of practicing as a registered dental hygienist. She set her goal of having a sole proprietor private practice in a free-standing building. After years of hard work and dedication, she opened the doors to this establishment in 2004.
“I wanted a place on 13th Street. Believe it or not, 13 has been my lucky number since high school. I figured with a venture like this, I would need all the luck I could get.”
It has been more than luck that created this dream. Lisa is dedicated to patient care and has put elbow grease into this practice at every level.
Lisa says her mission statement is, “To serve all people in my community through professional services and educational speaking engagements.” This is clear in all of the tasks she performs. She sees clients from every walk of life: special needs, skilled nursing facilities, retirees, and the general population. She continues to give of her time as a volunteer in the community, making sure that no child enters kindergarten without an oral evaluation.
The business of dental hygiene
RDHAPs in the state of California can provide all services that are performed under general supervision in alternative settings. They are able to own their own business and provide these services in their own free-standing building in underserved communities. Lisa researched the classifications and was able to have the area she resides in declared underserved. Lisa had to work through all the state and local business codes and comply with everything from business permits to building codes. She set up her own billing system and hired support staff.
Lisa has three employees who are clearly as dedicated to serving the clients as Lisa is. Lisa said some of the key elements she used to choose her staff were “their years of experience working in the community, ability to adapt to a new way of practicing, and most importantly their attitude.” She has found three key people to fill these roles. She chooses to have her team focus on front office duties. Her practice has a high number of Spanish-speaking patients, and one of her employees is fluent in Spanish. Each staff member has many years of experience in dentistry in all functions and possesses strong dental and management skills.
Lisa rents out an operatory to a fellow RDHAP to help her get a start. This person works one to two days a week and has her own patients. According to Lisa, “It is good to have another like-minded person in the office. We exchange ideas and work out details of problems and business solutions.”
Lisa has expanded her vision by starting a “business program” for the RDHAP who is considering starting her own business. Lisa said, “Along the way I have learned a lot about this business and would love to see others pursue dental hygiene private practice in a stand-alone building.”
She put together a three-day program that gives the attendees a framework for getting started and a new sense of direction in approaching the business of dental hygiene. Following Lisa’s pattern of success and understanding the required regulations can save the new RDHAP a lot of time and frustration.
Lisa found that through good communication she was able to develop wonderful relationships with dentists in the area. While I was in the area, I visited two of the offices that Lisa works with. Both offices reported that they love working with Lisa. She has used reports much like you would see from a periodontist to keep everyone informed of the patients’ status. She reaches out to these offices daily to facilitate communication.
Her advertising and recruitment strategies include being involved in the community, networking, speaking for community organizations, membership in the Chamber of Commerce, and advertising on the radio. Attending an art gallery show while I was in the area, I soon discovered that Lisa has another great asset that cannot be purchased. At the show a local artist asked me what I do for a living. When I told her, she said, “Have you met Lisa? She is the best hygienist I have ever had!” Word of mouth is one of the best methods of spreading your message.
One of Lisa’s dreams in the future is to have a practice where seniors with limited transportation reside. She would like to set up a pilot clinic to reach these clients. Lisa will continue to serve the clients in this beautiful building and meet the needs of the community just as she says in her mission statement.
Noel Brandon Kelsch, RDHAP, is a syndicated columnist, writer, speaker, and cartoonist. She serves on the editorial review committee for the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention newsletter and has received many national awards. Kelsch owns her dental hygiene practice that focuses on access to care for all and helps facilitate the Simi Valley Free Dental Clinic. She has devoted much of her 35 years in dentistry to educating people about the devastating effects of methamphetamines and drug use. She is a past president of the California Dental Hygienists’ Association.
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