Retired health care workers will be able to regain licensure more quickly as North Carolina prepares for a potential outbreak of the coronavirus.
The N.C. Medical Board expedited the process for retirees who want temporary emergency licenses. The board adopted the emergency rule Wednesday, March 11, and the N.C. Rules Review Commission approved it the next morning.
North Carolina has confirmed 15 coronavirus cases, as of Thursday, March 12. Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency Tuesday, when he waived licensure requirements for out-of-state licensed medical providers. Cooper expects “many more” cases, and the growing outbreak in Italy has state health officials rattled.
The N.C. Medical Board created the licensure avenue for retirees to prepare for the worst outcome. The emergency licensure was a response to the governor’s executive order — not a comment on the state’s ability to manage the virus, the board said.
“This is part of a preparedness effort. It is not part of any signal that we’re unable to meet the medical needs of our state,” said Jean Brinkley, spokeswoman for the N.C. Medical Board. “But it makes sense to be prepared.”
The board expects to publish the expedited licensure application next week, and the rule will take effect starting March 20.
Retired health care workers have been calling the board in the past few weeks, asking how they could help in case of a larger outbreak.
“It’s our local resources. It makes sense to start there,” Brinkley said. “Our goal was to support the governor’s executive order by taking a step to allow the people who are most likely and able to assist — the people who are already in North Carolina.”
But timing is delicate. The emergency licensure is good for 90 days, with a 30-day grace period, or until the state of emergency ends.
“It would be unfortunate if we had a whole bunch of people apply and the clock ran out before they were needed,” Brinkley said. “But we want this to be ready and waiting. … We don’t want there to be any delays should the situation in North Carolina worsen to the point where there is a call for retirees.”
The board asks retirees to contact their local health departments before applying.
Some 50,000 medical providers have active licenses in the state. The board doesn’t yet know how many health care workers retired within the past two years would be eligible for expedited licensure.
“We certainly don’t want to raise alarms unnecessarily or undermine confidence in our state’s ability to care for patients,” Brinkley said. “Again, this is just being smart and prepared.”