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Hospital Ship Comfort Nears Haitian Coast

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD THE USNS COMFORT, Jan. 19, 2010 – Drills have been run, beds are set up, supplies are stowed. The intensive care units are up and running, and medical equipment is where it needs to be.

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Navy Seaman Christopher Brossard runs through a Haitian history lesson for the other Haitian-Americans who put it together aboard the USNS Comfort en route to Haiti. Next to Brossard is Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Yves Henry. Standing behind the two are Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Lisa Thienard, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Wilner Civil and Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Mill Etienne. DoD photo by Jim Garamone

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The USNS Comfort, with 1,000 desperately needed hospital beds, is approaching Haiti. The ship will arrive in Haiti tomorrow morning, a day earlier than expected, said Navy Capt. (Dr.) Jim Ware, commander of the ship’s medical treatment facility.

The sailors aboard the ship are primed and ready to go. “These are Americans who really want to help,” Ware said. The sailors come from all over the continental United States.

The crew is not looking at what the mission means to the United States globally, Ware said. “We’re here to focus on one-on-one patient care – to focus on care for every mother, father and child out there,” he said. “The most important thing about this isn’t its global effect, it’s the one-on-one quality patient care.”

This, he added, amounts to helping a nation one person at a time.

“When that helicopter touches down and that 75-year old lady who was buried in a building for four days and has some type of broken bone, my surgeon is going to focus on her,” Ware said. “When that 7-year old child comes off and he’s got a crushed finger, we will focus on her.”

A detachment has landed aboard the vessel with two Seahawk helicopters. A mobile security group is on board to provide force protection for the medical detachment once it reaches the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

Navy Capt. Rodelio Laco will move aboard the Comfort once the ship arrives in Port-au-Prince harbor to take command of the task group. Laco will bring a staff aboard and coordinate medical care, Ware said. “He will orchestrate, coordinate and execute the operations,” Ware explained.

Coordinating these operations, he said, will allow the medical professionals aboard the Comfort to concentrate on the medicine.

The Comfort crew will work with nongovernmental organizations, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and the soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division who already are in Haiti providing assistance. The crew also expects to work with medical professionals from many other countries – including sizeable contingents from Mexico, Brazil and Canada.

“They will be working with us to bring the right patients to the ship since there will be thousands of individuals we can help,” Ware said.

The ship’s reach goes beyond the shoreline or landing zones, the captain said. Teams from the Comfort also can push out to help individuals in the hinterlands, depending on the security environment.

“We expect a fluid situation in country,” Ware said. Still, he added, he expects the interface with medical groups already on the island will allow the care to proceed in a safe and orderly fashion.

The U.S. military already has established safe areas to pick up patients, Ware said, and are assessing how to move the patients through Port-au-Prince to get them to the ship.

“My understanding [is that] we are looking at three different sites initially for the first 72 hours, and then we will open up to other areas of opportunity,” the captain said.

(Jim Garamone of American Forces Press Service is reporting and blogging from the USNS Comfort.)

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Related Sites:
USNS Comfort
USNS Comfort on Twitter
Special Report: Haiti Earthquake Relief

Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe crew of the USNS Comfort musters for an abandon-ship drill as the ship speeds toward Haiti. DoD photo by Jim Garamone  
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