If Georgia winds up converting vast convention centers into emergency hospitals, one of the state’s top officials will have plenty of firsthand knowledge to help the transformation.
Insurance Commissioner John King, a major general in the Georgia National Guard, was deployed to New Jersey to help set up a makeshift medical facility. He earlier spent more than a week in New Orleans helping to turn a downtown convention center into a 2,000-bed hospital.
This is not a new role for King, a former Doraville police chief and military veteran who has been dispatched to respond to hurricanes, flooding other natural disasters and crises over his career.
When Gov. Brian Kemp tapped him for the job last year, making him the first Hispanic constitutional officer in state history, King was in Texas leading a hurricane preparedness training and operations mission.
“I’ve been mobilized all over the world,” King said in an interview. “But the way the whole of government is being engaged, I can imagine how World War II was approached. Industry, military, government, health – it’s amazing.”
He said that he’s trying to apply maxims he’s adopted in Georgia on his missions, including careful consideration of local concerns and a willingness not to act as an outsider and say, “I’m large and in charge.”
He said he’s particularly careful not to rely too much on statistical models that help inform but shouldn’t drive decisions.
“I’m always worried that someone can come up with a flashy new object and steer the demand to the wrong place,” he said.
King was appointed to replace Jim Beck, who was accused in a 38-count indictment of developing an elaborate scheme to steal $2 million before winning the November election. Beck has pleaded not guilty and his case is still pending.
While King is deployed, his deputies are in close contact, said Martin Sullivan, the commissioner’s top aide.
“We talk to him five or six times a day,” Sullivan said. “We’re in just as much contact with him now as if he were in the office.”
King’s return date is not certain - he chuckled when asked when he might come back to Georgia - but the lessons from his experience could soon come in handy.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported earlier Tuesday that state officials were quietly preparing to turn the sprawling Georgia World Congress Center and two other facilities in Macon and Savannah into emergency hospitals to brace for a surge in coronavirus patients.
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