SUNBURY — Dr. Maria Tacelosky and extended function dental assistant Marlene Keister take a gamble every day at the Susquehanna River Valley Dental Clinic.

The clinic, which serves low-income and uninsured patients in the service area of Shikellamy, Selinsgrove Area, Line Mountain and Danville Area school districts at 335 Market St., is closed for routine care and cleaning since mid-March due to the COVID-19 crisis, but open for emergency dental procedures. While every patient must wear a face mask when entering the building, they cannot wear anything over their mouths during procedures.

"These are people with real needs," said Tacelosky, with 28 years of experience. "I don't really think about the risks. These people are hurting and we do our best we can to help."

Keister, with 40 years of experience, said she doesn't worry about herself. The patients are screened first and only seen for severe pain, swelling, infection, trauma or bleeding.

"Even if I was (worried), the patients need to come first," she said. "We're in health care. That's what we chose to do."

The work is tiring but rewarding, they said.

While Northumberland County is part of the 24 counties allowed to start re-opening on Friday after all non-essential businesses were closed down in March, routine care at dental clinics have not been given the go-ahead to re-open, said Tacelosky.

When open at full capacity, the clinic was seeing 70 patients a day before the pandemic but are now at six to seven per day, one patient every 45 to 60 minutes. They expanded their hours to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and have a waiting list of 40 people this week. All other appointments are filled, said patient coordinator Karen Vines.

Patients must come by themselves, must wear a mask at all times and fill out all paperwork outside the office before they are allowed inside, Each of the six rooms is sterilized after each use and sits for an hour before its next use, said Vines.

"They really are on the front lines," said Vines. "They are right in people's faces. They are upfront and personal with every person that comes into the office."

The clinic is working without 75 percent of its staff during the pandemic. Only four staff members are allowed in the building during patient hours.

The new pediatric dentistry wing, which was finished in December, on the second floor introduces an interactive waiting room for children, four more treatment chairs, a sterilization area, two administrative offices and a doctor's office. An open house for the new wing had to be postponed and not rescheduled yet.

The clinic began in 2009 with four treatment rooms and now has 14 treatment rooms. The four in the pediatric wing are all animal themed with state-of-the-art equipment.

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