By Duane DaPron, Associate Editor
He has stood tall on a mountaintop in the southernmost part of South America. He has traveled to Africa on a safari. He enjoys the challenge of motoring his car around tricky, winding courses at road race competitions. He has swum among sharks. He has even gone skydiving.
So, would a remodeling project for the 24-year-old home to his Florida dental practice serve to unnerve this individual-even if the makeover was interrupted on three occasions by devastating hurricanes during perhaps the worst hurricane season on record in the state's history?
Not if you are Dr. Michael Zerivitz.
Dr. Zerivitz has been treating patients since his practice opened in 1979 in Deltona, a city of 90,000, located in central Florida between Orlando and Daytona Beach.
Whether it be trying something unique and visionary in his practice, or tackling new challenges outside the dental office, Dr. Zerivitz is not afraid to stare fear directly in the face.
In fact, "fear-less" might best describe this dentist, who is a 1977 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Dentistry.
"Don't let FEAR stop you from having a great practice ... fear of expansion, fear of a big bank loan, fear of change, fear of success, and fear of failure," said Dr. Zerivitz, who served two years as a dental officer in the U.S. Navy in Orlando before starting his own general practice.
The graduate of George Washington University certainly didn't let fear stand in the way of his decision to renovate and then follow through on the remodeling of his facility-despite repeated delays from damage caused by a trio of hurricanes last fall.
Having practiced in the same building for nearly a quarter of a century, Dr. Zerivitz realized that it was time for a change. Besides achieving a modern look, he also had an eye on increasing productivity with an office redesign. So, to begin the process, the Florida dentist and his staff attended Greg Stanley's Team Training Camp in Orlando-on three different occasions-starting in 2002.
"While there, I met dentists who were producing two and three times as much as me in an environment of excellent quality," he said. "I decided that if they could do it, then so could I."
Later, a visit to Dr. Vincent Monticciolo's office in New Port Richey, Fla., also inspired Dr. Zerivitz and staff about the importance of teamwork and improvement.
Dr. Zerivitz then conducted an extensive search for a design team. After interviewing several dental office designers, he decided to go with Design Ergonomics, Inc. The company's founder, David Ahearn, is a practicing dentist.
Dr. Zerivitz and his wife Joy even traveled to Dr. Ahearn's office, located in a small, rural town in the New England countryside, to get a firsthand look at Design Ergonomics' various systems for efficient care delivery.
"I was impressed that he appeared very relaxed while working in a general practice that produced double the dentistry of my own," Dr. Zerivitz said of his visit.
With a design team in place, a general contractor was hired and construction began on Phase One of the remodeling project in June 2002. The contractor, Marlene Radloff, was such a good friend that Dr. Zerivitz and his wife felt comfortable enough to travel to Africa on a safari while initial construction occurred!
The new design provided several functional enhancements to the building, which was built in 1980.
Among the changes was the use of a full-width counter, instead of the traditional style "window," that served to open up the business office to patients and staff. In addition, music was directed into the reception room to create a blanket of privacy to sound transmission.
Switching to digital X-rays helped to revolutionize the practice, allowing also for the elimination of the darkroom from the facility's original design. The practice integrated intraoral cameras with the office computer system. In addition, all staff members now wear portable two-way radios to enhance office communication.
But the biggest change, according to Dr. Zerivitz, was the implementation of several Ergonomic Products Workstations, a product designed by Dr. Ahearn.
"The workstation is a patented method of consolidating all of a doctor and assistant's core supplies on one three-dimensional delivery unit," he said. "This consolidation not only markedly increased my productivity, it also greatly enhanced my ability to seamlessly introduce high-technology specialty equipment."
Among those high-tech items are the workstation's ultrasonic scaler and curing light. The portability of Design Ergonomics' Rapid Cart allowed Dr. Zerivitz and his staff to treat patients faster.
The first phase of remodeling, which was completed in September 2002, provided several eye-catching features-thanks to the expertise of interior designer Kay Trimmer.
Walls were painted with a special "knockdown" effect that resembles wallpaper. In addition, a multitude of photographs lines the walls of the practice's reception room. The gallery includes many photos taken by Dr. Zerivitz, an accomplished photographer, who received a Kodak Gallery Award for portrait photography last year.
"We were able to create a gorgeous new office that is really productive," Dr. Zerivitz said. "Patients rave about the new walls and the photo gallery in the reception room."
Besides these features, the ceiling in the reception room displays a custom mural patterned after the Florida sky.
The new design had a significant impact on productivity.
"The result was an increase of 70 percent in production compared with the 'old' office," said Dr. Zerivitz, who initially estimated the return time on investment for the building and equipment would range from 18 to 24 months.
With the success of the new design, Dr. Zerivitz proceeded with construction of Phase Two of the practice's remodeling project in 2004. That phase consisted of adding office space, converting an office into a sixth operatory as well as the addition of a staff lounge, a private office for Dr. Zerivitz, and a storage area.
The second phase was completed, except for the installation of dental equipment and the operatory conversion, before a series of events occured that were beyond Dr. Zerivitz's control.
Mother Nature unleashed her fury on the state of Florida last fall in the form of three hurricanes-Charley, Frances and Ivan.
"Charley and Frances caused extensive damage to central Florida. But we were lucky at our office, sustaining only minor damage to the building," Dr. Zerivitz said. The Deltona practice is a mere 30 miles off the Atlantic coast.
"We did, however, lose power after each storm and lost one week of production time after each storm. Then, the third storm (Ivan) hit. That one knocked a skylight loose and allowed rain to pour into the center of the dental office. That was quite a mess."
Once again, after Ivan, Dr. Zerivitz's practice was without power for a week. Even now, some five months later, only emergency repairs have been made to the building.
"It is simply impossible to get contractors to perform substantial repairs due to the number of houses that were damaged," he said. "One estimate was that 60 percent of the homes in Deltona sustained some damage. Roofing contractors do not even answer their phone anymore."
Despite the setbacks caused by the series of hurricanes, Dr. Zerivitz and his staff persevered.
"We have worked hard to maintain our previous level of production, but it is a day-to-day process. Our forecast for growth in 2004 certainly had to be adjusted due to the hurricanes. I am not complaining, though," the Deltona dentist said, adding that last year still stood to be the practice's best ever.
Even with the adversity Dr. Zerivitz has endured the past few months, he has met the challenge in his practice resolutely.
"When faced with the effect of the hurricanes on my practice and the local economy, I had some choices," he said. "I could 'hunker down' and reduce spending, reduce advertising, cut staff, and wait until the economy improved. That would be the choice of giving in to fear.
916 Deltona Blvd.
Deltona, FL 32725
"Instead, I have tried to look forward and be bold. Although it is not easy for me, I am in the process of expanding, instead of cutting. We have continued with the purchase of new computer equipment and with the sixth operatory. We are interviewing and hiring another assistant. We did not cut our advertising budget, and we kept the staff bonus intact."
Dr. Zerivitz's response is typical of his approach, not only to his dental practice, but to life.
"I do things that most people don't do," he admitted.
For instance, as a Father's Day present from his family last year, Dr. Zerivitz took part in what's known as "Shark Encounter" at Sea World in Orlando. For this experience, he was placed into a cage that was then dropped into a large tank of water occupied by sharks. The sharks circled the cage, coming within just a few feet of the dentist.
"That was great fun," he said.
Dr. Zerivitz is also an avid rock climber, having ascended several formations across the country. He enjoys traveling to unusual places. Recent journeys with his wife have taken him to Russia (a trip taken just after Hurricane Ivan last fall) and to Patagonia, an area that entails portions of Chile and Argentina.
"It's as close as you can get to the South Pole yet still be in South America," he said.
He savors the thrill of competing in road races behind the wheel of his own car.
These undaunting life experiences have been transferred to the dental chair for Dr. Zerivitz.
"If I can do these, then I can build a dental practice," he said. "Building a dental practice is a mental game. First, you build the practice in your head, then in reality. Once you see it, you believe it."
Office remodeling changes
• New indirect lighting in the treatment rooms
• New flooring
• New ceiling surfaces
• New wall covering
• Expanded front desk
• New cabinetry at the business office
• Cables for TV and a computer network
• New dental delivery systems
• New X-ray units
• Upgraded electrical system
• Digital X-ray systems
• Computers with flat screen monitors in treatment rooms
• New storage units
• Sterilization workflow changes
• New tub and tray system
• Rapid carts for quick deployment of endo equipment
• New fiber optic handpieces (NSK)