Serving His Country
Georgia insurance commissioner who assisted with COVID-19 facilities with National Guard likens virus fight to World War II. Special Risk Section sponsored by Lexington Insurance.
- Lori Chordas
- June 2020
ON THE HOMEFRONT: Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John F. King (center) and members of the Army National Guard were deployed to New Orleans earlier this year to help convert a local convention center into a 2,000-bed hospital to treat COVID-19 patients.
Photo by Staff Sergeant Leach of U.S. Army North
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Georgia's top insurance regulator has seen it all in his career with the Army National Guard. John F. King, a major general, has been mobilized with combat units in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Africa, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought him a bit closer to home.
Earlier this year King was in New Jersey helping to build makeshift medical facilities and increase hospital capacity for New Jersey patients infected with the coronavirus.
The fight against the disease, which had killed close to 300,000 globally as of mid-May, is unlike anything “we've seen since World War II,” King said.
Prior to his trip to the Garden State, the Georgia insurance and safety fire commissioner spent nearly two weeks in New Orleans helping to turn a downtown convention center into a 2,000-bed hospital to treat COVID-19 patients.
“Its scale is extraordinary,” King said.
“We're used to dealing with hurricanes, which may affect one or a few states, and having the forces to work closely with FEMA to deal with that. But this is a global event. Every FEMA region in the U.S. has a request for federal resources, and every national and worldwide agency is now being called upon to assist in efforts to combat the volatile nature of this crisis,” he said.
Over the years, King and the members of his unit have assisted the Federal Emergency Management Agency in emergency preparedness and recovery efforts during national hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and other catastrophes.
While hospitalizations in the New York and New Jersey area had peaked by mid April, new cases were still being reported throughout the country, with more than 1.2 million confirmed cases in early May.
The pandemic is also hitting King's home state. Georgia had its first reported case on March 3. The number of cases totaled more than 32,000 in early May, with more than 1,300 reported deaths, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
King, a former Doraville, Georgia police chief, was appointed as the state's insurance commissioner by Gov. Brian Kemp in July 2019, and is the first Hispanic statewide official in Georgia's history.
The COVID-19 pandemic, King said, is unlike any other catastrophe he's assisted with in the past.
Limited medical resources and overcrowded hospitals have become a grim reality, and stark statistics about rising mortality rates continue to paint a dismal picture of a crisis with no projected end in sight.
But King said he doesn't put too much weight into statistical models that offer future projections about the crisis.
“Instead we have to focus on what we can do now and bringing the resources we have to the right locations. We're now spending a lot of time coming into states and listening to leaders about their needs and where gaps exist,” he said at the time of his deployment in New Jersey.
King, a member of Kemp's coronavirus task force, said the biggest challenges his state now faces is developing ways to fill those gaps and identifying where to build makeshift facilities to house infected patients.
“There is no model or playbook for this crisis, but we want to get it right the first time,” he said. “That will require a great deal of innovation and recognizing and understanding what works and what doesn't so we can immediately switch gears to try something else that offers the promise of success.”
King, who is also heading up the governor's Emergency Preparedness Committee, has called on Georgia insurers to assist those impacted by the pandemic.
On March 20, he told health insurers not to cancel policies for nonpayment until further notice and to waive copays for COVID-19 testing. Also at that time, King requested all property/casualty insurers refrain from canceling, for the cause of nonpayment, commercial policies that include business interruption or business income coverage for 60 days.
In addition, the commissioner waived nonfederal filing deadlines and requirements and late filing fees for agents in the state.
King said one of the most rewarding experiences of his recent deployments is “continuing to witness the determination and amazing courage” of medical professionals and those on the front line.
“It's very humbling as a soldier that served overseas to see the incredible courage that these individuals have as they go to work every day and put their lives on the line to treat patients,” King said.
In April, he and his unit were working in Edison, New Jersey, to help ease that burden by coordinating efforts with “the talented team of state leaders” to prepare medical infrastructure and increase hospital bed capacity needed for the surge of cases in the state.
State officials said New Jersey hit its peak in hospitalizations on April 14. Nearly 5,000 patients with the coronavirus or under investigation for the virus remained hospitalized in early May.
King returned home to Georgia on April 22. While deployed he said he was excited to bring back to his state several things he's learned while assisting other states in their fight against COVID-19.
One of those observations, he said, is that a crisis of this magnitude requires the response of everyone.
“One of the most important things we can do is to get to know our partners across state governments and other agencies early on and establish trust with them. And realize that we are all in this together,” King said.
“When I come to these communities with the stars on my uniform I'm very humbled. I let them know I'm here to help them and not to take over. It's about establishing trust and being a valuable partner and delivering what you promise. Otherwise you become irrelevant,” said King, the recipient of numerous awards for military and public services, including the Bronze Star Medal and Combat Infantryman Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal and a NATO award for his service in Bosnia and Afghanistan.
King said he's very proud of how the insurance industry has responded to the global COVID-19 health pandemic and the “voluntary changes” it's making to assist insureds and other stakeholders.
He is also very optimistic that local, state and national leaders and agencies will continue to come together to combat the crisis.
“People in other nations often underestimate our resilience, but America is not a victim country. We've been challenged many times before and we see the gravity of this crisis, but we will thrive from this. We'll have to change the way we do things to protect our families, but we will emerge stronger as a nation,” King said.