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Oct 16 2018

Doing our part to prep for disaster

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Image for Doing our part to prep for disaster On a Monday in mid-September, I received an urgent telephone call from NCMB’s chief executive officer. As we spoke, Hurricane Florence was crawling across the Atlantic, seemingly on course for central NC. Weather reports warned that the storm could make landfall as a historic Category 4 hurricane and Governor Cooper had already declared North Carolina in a state of emergency. Anticipating devastating consequences across most of the state and a potential need to allow out-of-state clinicians in to assist with medical relief efforts, we knew the Board should prepare for the worst. I agreed to set an emergency Board Meeting for Wednesday, Sept. 12, during which the Board voted to immediately adopt emergency licensing policies.

The Board approved two pathways to emergency licensure: 1) Out of state physicians and physician assistants (PAs) affiliated with hospitals in their home states report to a NC hospital during a declared state of emergency. The receiving NC hospital verifies credentials, the clinician is deemed “licensed” and the hospital puts the volunteer to work; and 2) Out of state physicians or PAs who are licensed and in good standing in their home states submit an emergency license application to NCMB. The Board verifies credentials and issues an emergency disaster license, which temporarily authorizes the clinician to practice in NC. We were fortunate in that NCMB staff had been planning to propose these very policies at the regular Board Meeting scheduled for Sept. 20-21. Through its emergency meeting, the Board simply voted to adopt the provisions immediately.

It was tremendously gratifying to see how quickly NCMB was able to implement the emergency disaster license program, with a crisis looming. Within hours of the emergency Board Meeting, staff had an online disaster license application up and running and a resource page with disaster relief information on the Board’s website. NCMB emailed licensees as well as member organizations, in North Carolina and elsewhere, about emergency licensure and within 24 hours, the Board had issued its first disaster license. Although NCMB closed its offices in Raleigh at noon on Thursday, Sept. 13, due to the approaching hurricane, the Board’s licensing manager issued disaster licenses from home, with the help of another NCMB staff member who agreed to assist. These staff worked late into the evening on Friday, Sept. 14, and resumed work Saturday, Sept. 15, until the licensing manager lost power at home. Meanwhile, other NCMB staff kept in close contact during the storm, troubleshooting, updating disaster information on the website and staying in contact with the NC Office of Emergency Medical Services. NC OEMS graciously opened their command center to NCMB on Sunday, allowing our staff to continue processing disaster license applications.

In seven days, NCMB received more than 100 emergency disaster license applications and, as of Sept. 21, had issued about 70 disaster licenses. It isn't yet clear how many out of state physicians and PAs may have assisted in NC through the hospital-to-hospital credentialing provision.

I’m proud of the Board’s quick actions to enable out of state clinicians to assist with medical relief, heartened by the willingness of medical professionals in other states to help and, most of all, confident that NCMB will be ready, when the next disaster hits.

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