Smile MD postpones opening sites in Kentucky and Illinois until end of year.

In mid-March, expansions into Kentucky and Illinois were set for SmileMD, a Dublin company that sends anesthesia teams to dental offices to keep patients out of hospital beds. The company was ready to hire six employees in Central Ohio, a 30 percent expansion for the business founded in 2014. A chief growth officer had just joined to oversee sales that had tripled each year.

CEO Saket Agrawal had been following the news from China, Italy and the American coasts about COVID-19 and thought of his own emergency plan. “I always had in the back of my head, what if I lose a doctor, what if they just quit on me or they have a health issue or get in a car accident and my revenue drops 50 percent overnight?” he recalls. “So that’s how I ran my company. I always had that reserve: Here’s the money we cannot touch because I need to be able to sustain an impact to the business.”

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That worst-case drop in revenue came for SmileMD on March 16, when Gov. Mike DeWine stopped all but emergency dental procedures in Ohio to limit exposure to the coronavirus and divert personal protective equipment to hospitals.

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But it was far worse than Agrawal ever imagined. Overnight, business dropped off completely. “They didn’t give us time to digest it. One night you get a memo saying all dental is cut off,” he says. 

A big if—approval for funds from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program—was resolved the week of April 20. The moves into Kentucky and Illinois are now planned for late this year. Salaries were cut, but no one was laid off. 

“If we knew it was only a month, we probably wouldn’t have had to take such drastic measures,” he says. “But if we waited to cut costs … or a second wave occurs, we’re not going to have a business.”

Agrawal is optimistic about the future; he hopes to reopen in mid-May. He says the pandemic that shut down SmileMD also made its case.

“The whole goal is to make sure hospitals have space for COVID patients. Our business really helps with that. This crisis, if there is a silver lining, just highlights the importance of the service we’re providing.”

Bob Vitale is a freelance writer.