By Danny Chan
Cost wasn’t the biggest factor for Dr Brenda Loh when determining the right contractor for her surgery’s renovation. She needed a fitout expert with whom she could entrust the entire project so as to minimize her clinical down time. Fortunately, she knew where to find the right help – apparently one that afforded her the peace of mind to go on a holiday while her two surgeries were being overhauled.
Before taking over as Principal Dentist at the Myers Street Dental Clinic in 2006, Dr Loh had spent three years with the Geelong-based practice in both part- and full-time capacities. Drs Eddie Amon, John Buckis and Steve Mitchell set up the clinic in 1982. A year prior to his retirement, Dr Buckis sold his share of the partnership to Dr Loh, along with the use of two surgeries. Currently, the partners each occupy two surgeries – Assistant Dentists occupy remaining rooms – within the purpose-built dental building which houses 10 surgeries/ operatories.
Last August, Dr Loh decided renovation of her two surgeries was long overdue. Taking advantage of a tax break incentive, she hoped to install a new clinical environment that suited her work conditions and individual needs. She reasons: “My surgeries were essentially designed to Dr Buckis’ specifications and needs rather than mine.”
Dr Loh knew exactly the company she needed to materialize her sketchy concepts. She favored reliability over cheaper pricing in choosing a fitout contractor for the job:
“I didn't compare costs with any other company because price was not my biggest concern. I value reliability, attention to detail and the knowing that speedy support is available should ongoing maintenance be required.”
Dr Loh was describing service qualities personally experienced with Dentec, her trusted equipment supply and installations company:
“Dentec has been attending to our clinic’s equipment support and services for the past 20 years. Dentec has been the main supplier and installer for almost all of our fixed plant equipments – including dental, suction and compressor units – and it is safe to say that they know the fittings of the clinic better than the owners themselves.
“I decided on Dentec because they are experienced in all aspects of setting up and supporting a dental surgery. Through our past dealings with them, they have proven to be reliable, offer prompt response to 'emergency' situations and enjoy a good rapport with our staff.”
Working on an initial budget of $100,000, Dentec began concept drawings in August 2009. Creative utilization of available work and storage space topped Dr Loh’s list of priorities for the renovation.
Right off the bat, she wanted to configure a wall-hugging L-shaped bench to replace an existing one that was clunky and space consuming.
“Since we also decided to computerize the practice, the computer and flat panel screen would already be taking up precious bench space. I wanted to use every little bit of idle space possible”
The vacated space would then be used to accommodate a new desk area that facilitates patient consultation – besides housing the computer. In terms of layout, it also made perfect sense. The original position of the bench and storage cabinets, directly behind the dentist’s working area, had presented access problems for nurses during treatment. With the L-shaped configuration, the nurses’ side of the room would also have a neat row of cabinets catering to their specific storage needs.
Besides a more desirable working orientation, Dr Loh also wanted to streamline ergonomics by adjusting the benchtops and overhead cupboards to suit her height and arm’s reach. Personal comfort and efficiency were primary goals of the design, she explains:
“In my mind, as long as the patient has a comfortable chair to lie on and feels assured by the clean and bright surroundings, they would be happy. Patients only need to spend very little time in the dental surgery. I expect to be in these rooms for the rest of my career, so it should be about me.”
Next on Dr Loh’s to-do list was to purchase the visual centerpiece of the dental surgery. She wanted modern chairs that were “compact, easy to maintain and looked good”. The new bench had narrowed the width of the rooms, so the treatment units needed to be slim yet broad enough for patient comfort. The configuration and placement of handheld instruments like suction and handpieces should consider treatment access and use on wheelchair bound patients. For practical reasons, she limited her purchase considerations to only buy equipment backed by Dentec’s servicing.
“If Dentec does not support the warranty or accreditation to service the brand, then I would not consider the equipment. If anything went wrong with my equipment, it was important that a local company would be able to solve the problem in a very short time as my livelihood depends on my equipment working properly.”
At first resistant to brands that she considered new to the Australian market, Dr Loh eventually took Dentec’s advice and purchased two Heka-Dental UNIC chairs. As the exclusive Australasian importer of the European-made dental units, Dentec was able to offer Dr Loh an extended warranty on the chairs, which helped to seal the deal.
The actual fitout process took three-and-a-half weeks between January and February 2010, involving the demolition and refurbishment of the surgeries; dismantling and disposing of unwanted equipment; and transfer and reinstallation of existing dental units to other surgeries in the same building.
As only Dr Loh’s rooms were being refurbished – it was business as usual for the other occupants of Myers Street Dental Clinic – the fitout team had to restrict demolition and other noisy chores to before and after hours. Work that required water or electrical mains to be cut were also done outside of clinical hours. The builders also had to be mindful of noise levels and maintain clutter-free walkways, since the rooms under construction were located close to the entrance of the hallway, which leads to other operatories.
Challenges notwithstanding, Dr Loh was assured of Dentec’s long-standing reputation in the dental field. She left Phil Earl, the firm’s Managing Director, totally in charge of the project while she went on holiday during the entire building phase.
Even though Phil and his team had only three weeks to turn the project around, allowing Dr Loh to quickly return to work and minimize her losses in income, he made sure all hands were on deck to meet the urgent deadline. Keeping to the tightly scheduled completion and handover dates, the newly refurbished rooms were fully operational on 18 February.
Dr Loh credits the exceptional work rate to Dentec’s keen sense of responsibility and positive work ethics.
“The trades people Dentec employed produced good quality and precise work. When posed with difficult problems, Phil and his team always put thought, time and effort into giving the client exactly what they want. The team works and communicates well – and do not believe in playing the blame game.”
“In my absence, staff who were present to witness the progress of the refurbishment told me that the workers started early – sometimes from 5am – and worked as late as 10 at night. They also reported that exceptional care was taken to reduce noise and other inconvenience to the patients and staff.”
Although final spend came to $150,000, mostly due to the addition of a dental unit that wasn’t included in the original projection, the results of the renovation are in Dr Loh’s words “two beautiful surgeries customized to my needs”. Without hesitance, she concludes:
“I believe you get what you pay for. I’m not sure if Dentec was more expensive than the other fitout companies – but I thought they were well worth it.”