Coping with COVID-19: Delta Dental of Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE – Joseph R. Perroni, CEO and president of Delta Dental of Rhode Island, says his company has provided more than $7 million to dentists, $5 million to clients and members, and $2 million to the community through donations and grants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Perroni said that in March the company’s 134 employees were all operating remotely. Today, only 10-15 employees work in the office “on any given day.”

“The impact of the pandemic on my professional and personal life [was] fast developing, disruptive and in many cases, will likely have lasting effects,” acknowledged Perroni.

“From a professional standpoint, these impacts include changes to our traditional work environment. It is probably no surprise, but being in the insurance industry, we had a more conservative office environment and approach to the workday. However, the company’s pandemic response has changed that mindset quite a bit.

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“I have realized that post-pandemic, there will be a real need to be more flexible in introducing remote work,” he said. “Change has also come to our in-office workspaces, which we are in the process of reworking to best accommodate social distancing and safety for our employees. Our drive toward meeting our corporate goals and objectives will be as strong a focus as it has always been, but the road to achieving them might look a little different.”

“Personally, it has been wonderful to see how state leaders and the business community have worked together to get us through this pandemic landscape,” he added. “It has also been nice to have my older two children home working remotely in their out-of-state jobs, although having two 20-somethings and a 15-year-old together under one roof … has my wife and I wondering from time to time what happened to all the hot water and food.”

PBN is asking local business owners and top executives five questions in a survey designed to understand how the new coronavirus has affected them and their businesses and what they have learned from the unprecedented challenges. Here are Perroni’s responses:

How are you coping amid the COVID-19 crisis?

Our team has rallied to adapt to this ever-changing and uncertain environment. We adapted quickly to a remote work environment, while remaining fully operational, fielding customer service calls and processing claims for our members. We have worked to create flexibility in our policies to assist clients and the dental community during this difficult time. To support our community, Delta Dental of Rhode Island was one of the initial funders of the Rhode Island Foundation and United Way’s COVID-19 Response Fund and have also supported a number of other Rhode Island organizations in need. Additionally, we have instituted a reimbursement program for dental offices that donate personal protective equipment (PPE) to health care professionals across the state.

Have you found silver linings in these difficult times?

One silver lining has been the opportunity to watch our dedicated and talented team members rise to the challenges presented by this crisis. Employees have come even closer together to work to overcome the obstacles we face and to support our constituencies in these difficult times. We have also been touched by the community’s response to the challenges Rhode Islanders are facing, and by the grace and strength Rhode Islanders have demonstrated in this unprecedented time.

Our recent temporary policy and benefit guidelines changes are a great example of our staff coming together. We started with a question: How can we make dental care safer for dentists and members right now, and make sure our members have access to the care they need? Our professional relations, compliance, data, and operations teams worked together to discuss and vet the benefits of potential changes to dentists and members. Then our customer service, sales and communications teams worked together to make sure all of our clients, dentists and members had the information they need to make the most of these changes. It truly was a companywide effort.

How are you maintaining your company culture?

Each day, employees receive an email from our CEO with important updates, news about company efforts and initiatives in the community, and messages that focus on positivity and humor in our new remote work reality. Our Human Resources Director also uses email to share company news, along with resources for maintaining good physical and mental health during this challenge. Finally, like many companies, we are fully embracing technology tools to stay connected as a team while bringing our best work to our members, clients, and dentists.

Did your business-continuity plan work or were there surprises?

As recently as last November, our team conducted a full-scale test of our business continuity plan to ensure that our business operations could continue as usual through crisis scenarios, so there were not any surprises. We regularly test this plan on an ongoing basis as part of our standard business operations. The uniqueness of this situation gave rise to changing many of the automated communications we have in place, so we opted to modify our communications accordingly. But this was minor. Thankfully, we were well equipped to operate at full capacity during this time.

Do you have advice for other local companies?

While these are challenging times, it is important to prioritize connection and communication, not only among teams and employees, but also with clients and customers. Maintaining as much normalcy as possible – and remaining flexible when normalcy cannot be achieved – is critical to the health of companies and organizations.

Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer and researcher. He can be reached at shuman@pbn.com.

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