By Kristen Zapata

The Coastal Bend Regional Advisory Council’s Health Care Preparedness Program recently presented a donation of much-needed personal protective equipment to the Laredo Health Department’s dental health clinic.

The dental clinic, which treats an average of 6,000 patients each year and is a rotation site for fourth-year dental students from UT Health San Antonio, is a partnership between the university, the City of Laredo and the Laredo Health Department.

As the practice of dentistry has been permitted to safely resume, additional safety precautions have been implemented to keep patients and providers protected throughout treatment in the wake of COVID-19. Among those precautions is the requirement that PPE, such as N95 masks and face shields, be worn by oral health care providers while treating patients.

Traditionally, these items are not needed for dental patients. As the dental clinic began building up its supply, its orders, competing with those of local hospitals and medical clinics, were canceled by vendors.

“I shared with my husband my frustration in trying to obtain PPE for my staff and clinic,” said Sonia Perez, manager of clinical operations at the Laredo dental clinic. “It was concerning that all of our orders were being canceled so close to our dental students starting back in July. I did not have enough PPE to stay in compliance with the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and [American Dental Association] guidelines.”

Her husband, Zenon Perez, is an assistant chief with the Quad City Volunteer Fire Department, which serves both Zapata and Webb counties. He decided something had to be done.

Assistant Chief Perez worked through his employer and was introduced to Nathan Rubio, the Health Care Preparedness Program manager for the Coastal Bend Regional Advisory Council, serving Trauma Service Area T. The program, which aids the Coastal Bend region by collaborating with the health care community on emergency preparedness, has been tasked by the State of Texas to assist with the distribution of PPE to all of its partners in need.

“One of our partners, Quad City Fire, advised us of a need within the clinic and, with a little outreach, we were able to assist and ensure their operations were able to continue servicing the community,” he said. “Everyone has been impacted in one form or another by COVID-19. There is a lot of stress, anxiety, and our partners are not immune to it all. Even these heroes have breaking points, but we are here to help.”

The Health Care Preparedness Program donated:

  • 7,500 level 2 masks
  • 1,920 N95 masks
  • 150 disposable goggles
  • 450 disposable plastic gowns
  • 140 disposable white coveralls
  • 1,000 face shields
  • 10 cases of small gloves
  • 10 cases of medium gloves
  • 2 cases of extra-large gloves

Gladys C. Keene, MD, MPH, regional dean of the UT Health San Antonio’s Regional Campus in Laredo, said she is grateful for the donation.

“This outstanding support from our Laredo health care workers is another great example of the strong partnership between UT Health San Antonio and the Laredo community,” she said. “This partnership, which has existed for over 30 years, is working together to provide health resources and opportunities to make lives better in Laredo and the surrounding region.”