“It is difficult to be introspective in the middle of a crisis — to fully understand what could or should have been done differently,” noted Caroline Miller, former president of the Council on Licensure, Enforcement & Regulation (CLEAR) recently.
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 frontline 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.
Lessons from SARS
In 2004, Caroline Miller 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 response to unexpected events and public health emergencies was in the making.
“Whether you’re a health care regulator, professional licensing board, public commission, or even private enterprise, there are a number of things you can be doing or putting in place,” Miller noted. These activities will be helpful for dealing not only with the current COVID-19 crisis but also for the period afterward, as agencies help people get back to work and continue in regulated activities. Examples of valuable actions include:
- Writing or updating business continuity and emergency preparedness plans
- Activating emergency administrative rules
- Producing new guidance policies
- Documenting the 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 health care 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 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,” Miller explained.
Leverage Current Tech
A good place to start is to assess your current technology for its ability to adapt quickly. You may already have 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:
- Response: the current emergency situation.
- Recovery: normalizing business operations post-emergency.
“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,” stated Miller. “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.”
That resolve is evident 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, ensure technology is adaptable and have the flexibility to react quickly when a crisis occurs.
Meredith Trimble is a former municipal official and Town Council Acting Chair, who focused on strategic planning, annual budgeting and bonded infrastructure projects. Her government experience also includes posts in both federal and state-level executive branch agencies: Associate Editor of the U.S. Federal Election Commission’s FEC Record; and Director of Education for the Connecticut Office of State Ethics. In her current role as a Senior Content Specialist with Tyler Technologies, Inc., she writes content to help empower those who serve the public. Her current focus is to help facilitate data-enabled organizations as well as to create connections between governments and those they serve.