Crisis Recovery, Planning for Regulators

May 05, 2020 by Caroline Miller

SARS Lessons Regulators Can Use for Recovery & Future Planning After COVID-19

Crisis Recovery, Planning for Regulators

It is difficult to be introspective in the middle of a crisis — to fully understand what could or should have been done differently. Right now, regulatory agencies are deep in the throes of dealing with the coronavirus crisis. They are working closely with the public, their constituents, other government agencies, and software vendors to enable a remote workforce, amend rules, and accelerate workforce deployment strategies to push much needed resources to front line work. It may take months or years to fully understand and meaningfully change the way we respond to similar events in the future. But we can look to a not-so-distant past to provide some insight and guidance.

In 2004, I participated in a public sector leadership response team related to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in Ontario, Canada. While that coronavirus epidemic was far less severe than what we face today with COVID-19, a wealth of knowledge regarding the role that regulators can and should play in responding to unexpected events and public health emergencies was in the making.

During that experience, I learned that whether you’re a healthcare regulator, professional licensing board, public commission, or even private enterprise, there are a number of things you can be doing or putting in place. These activities will be helpful for dealing not only with the current COVID-19 crisis, but also for the period afterward as we help people get back to work and other regulated activities. Some examples include:

  • Writing or updating business continuity and emergency preparedness plans
  • Activating emergency administrative rules
  • Producing new guidance policies
  • Documenting scope of practice changes
  • Enabling telemedicine where possible to support a safer practice
  • Encouraging license portability
  • Extending renewal periods
  • Deploying non-traditional or inactive clinically trained healthcare workers to perform key functions during the pandemic

These will likely require functional and operational changes. Many states are trying to reduce red tape and legislative hurdles to keep the country moving forward. Changes including reduced or deferred fees for licenses, or to extended license expiry and continuing education dates, can often be approved quickly and implemented by system administrators using the technology solutions and partners you leverage today.

A good place to start is to assess your current technology for its ability to adapt quickly. You may already have the features that can trigger calendars and reminders, automate notices and updates, and reassign tasks according to available workforce while freeing up staff time to deal with other, more critical tasks and projects. If you have not done so already, consider contacting your technology vendors to assist you with configuring new reports, providing analytics, creating online portals for your consumers, or automating tasks so you can be more effective. Keep in mind you are assessing and addressing two kinds of challenges you have to tackle:

  1. Response: The current emergency situation
  2. Recovery: Normalizing business operations post-emergency

Another lesson I learned from the SARS crisis is one I had already suspected: one of the truly remarkable things about regulators is their desire to work together for the common good — a fact that rises to the top during times of crisis. It is a hallmark of the regulatory community that they not only identify gaps in necessary information and tools, but that they also then volunteer time, energy, and staff to discuss and debate ideas, do the necessary research, and create best practices. It was a privilege to work with them back then and to see the same resolve now.

Because of the role they play in crisis management and recovery, regulators and regulatory agencies must take a “not if, but when” mindset when it comes to planning for unexpected events. To be effective at serving communities well during public health emergencies and at all other times, it is crucial for regulators to have plans in place, to ensure your technology will be adaptable, and to have the flexibility to react quickly when a crisis occurs.

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