Opinion: Daily Journal

After the storm: N.C. a model for the rest of the country 

CJ photo by Don Carrington
CJ photo by Don Carrington

Recovery from Hurricane Florence will be long and hard. But as the waters recede, the strength of North Carolinians shines.  

We’ve been here before. From 1851 to 2018, North Carolina has been hit by 65 hurricanes. Hurricane Hazel in the 1950s set a benchmark, and Hurricanes Fran, Floyd, Irene, Irma, and Matthew have wrought damage and destruction. When Florence threatened, past lessons and leadership helped us prepare for the worst. Gov. Bev Purdue’s emergency communications plan before and after Irene set a new standard and became a case study for U.S. Homeland Security. Gov. Pat McCrory made sure emergency supplies were ready before Matthew hit, and it made a big difference in rescue and recovery, as did his coordination of federal, state, and local resources.  

The General Assembly met two months after Matthew and allocated $200 million for short-term recovery. Although he received criticism for long-term recovery efforts after Matthew, Gov. Roy Cooper built on the lessons of his predecessors in preparations for Florence, providing strong support for those affected from private resources, and government aid from all reaches of the state and country. Leadership is built on many shoulders, and partisan politics have no place in a crisis. 

Sometimes, out of crisis comes opportunity. Access to quality and affordable health care is a concern, particularly in rural areas hit hardest by the storm. If people want to work, we should let them. Bridge loans can help repair bridges and a lot more. Now’s the time to think about the next storm. Balance of government and private markets is delicate, but key to successful recovery. 

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is calling for medical volunteers to assist in getting the right medical treatment to those affected by the storm. They’re encouraging nurses, physicians, and behavioral health specialists to apply to volunteer, even if they hold out-of-state licensing. Accepting reciprocity licenses for medical personal is a good idea, no matter the crisis; addressing shortages due to school safety concerns, rural area shortages, or hard-to-fill specialties.  

UNC Healthcare waived a $50 fee for virtual urgent care service for the first weekend of the storm. Getting a sick child to the hospital or dealing with a minor injury could be handled via a telephone chat or video-conference, for example. Telemedicine is a less expensive, effective, and efficient way to deliver heath care. Let’s use it. 

Many hospitals aren’t equipped for dialysis. Emergency rooms were jammed with patients who needed treatment during the storm. Post-storm needs for mental health and other health-related needs are expected to skyrocket, particularly in areas already short on access to care. Certificate of Need laws should be eliminated to increase access to critical care and allow medical providers to offer new technology, better facilities, and more treatment options.  

North Carolina requires more licenses for more occupations than most states, but is a license always necessary? People got the job done during the storm. Shouldn’t we allow them to work afterward? 

One of the strengths in hurricane recovery is the coordination and collaboration of levels of government. But some take longer than others. The N.C. Rural Center recently created Thread Capital, which offers short-term loans up to $50,000 to small businesses impacted by the storm to maintain or re-build while awaiting state and federal grants. Readers may recall the N.C. Connect bond included short-term grants for water and sewer projects. Extending revolving short-term loan programs to include school construction and other capital needs across the state is worth exploring. Reducing regulations that may discourage private investments is also worth a look. 

Only 35 percent of at-risk properties here were covered by flood insurance, a program largely run by the federal government. The state’s Beach and FAIR plans may have trouble paying all the expected claims. Now’s the time to plan for the next storm and move toward an open, competitive market, with rates reflecting risk and allowing consumers choice and products to meet their needs.  

Finally, a balance between private resources and government services is what works. North Carolina again is a model for the rest of the country. It’s why we like calling North Carolina home.  

Becki Gray is John Locke Foundation senior vice president.