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Defense Department Briefing

Presenters: Commander, Medical Treatment Facility Aboard the USNS Mercy, Capt. Mark Llewellyn and Navy Orthopedic Surgeon, LCDR Vernon Sechriest
April 15, 2005
Defense Department Briefing

      STAFF:  Well, let's go ahead and get started.  It is 10:01, and I thank you for being here this morning.

 

     We have with us today Navy Captain Mark Llewellyn, the medical treatment facility commander aboard Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy. He's joined by Navy Lieutenant Commander Vernon Sechriest, who is a Navy orthopedic surgeon aboard the Mercy.  Both -- with them also are representatives from Project Hope and the uniformed Public Health Services, who are available to answer questions that might fall outside the scope of the Mercy medical treatment facility.

 

     They're both talking -- they're both aboard the USNS Mercy, which is off the coast of Indonesia.  As you recall, the Defense Department, in cooperation with the State Department and other U.S. agencies, has provided assistance in the area of Indonesia and other affected nations as they deal with the effects of the December tsunami and more-

recent earthquakes Indonesia.  Given the robust coverage and interest that you all had in this when she deployed, we thought that you might be interested in getting an update directly from the medical professionals who are aboard the Mercy in the region.

 

     We are doing this via telephone line, so obviously they can't see you and you can't see them, although we have a slide show of pictures that we'll continue to go through here that will give you a feel for some of the work that they've been doing.  But when it comes to the questions period, if you could identify yourself for them, that would be helpful, since they're not seeing you.

 

     Okay.  With that, I'm going to turn it over to Captain Llewellyn, who is going to make some comments, and then open it up for questions.

 

     CAPT. LLEWELLYN:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  It's actually "good evening" here, but good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Pentagon press corps, and thank you for speaking with us today.

 

     As you heard, I'm Captain Mark Llewellyn.  I'm the commanding officer of the medical treatment facility here on the USNS Mercy.  

 

     Since arriving off of the coast of Banda Aceh on the 4th of February and now near -- off the coast of Nias Island, our team of medical professionals and support personnel has been working hard to help our Indonesian friends, who so desperately need our assistance.

 

We have been forever changed by the warmth with which we have been received here and the relationships that we have established in both Banda Aceh and Nias Island.

 

     Our work here continues, and we are committed to putting forth the very best medical, dental and support care we can provide from the Mercy team.

 

     In Banda Aceh, we work closely with the host government, both the civilian and military; with nongovernmental organizations, which we'll refer to from now on as NGOs; and other foreign militaries providing disaster relief and medical care. 

 

     Our guiding principle going in was to ask:  How can we help you?  We went in representing the heart of America.  We went with a spirit of cooperation, coordination and collaboration with the others already there.  We brought top-quality level-three medical care, a top-notch mental health team and other capabilities from the U.S. Public Health Service, and a crucial preventive medicine unit.  We work closely with the host nation and with our Singaporean, German and Australian military colleagues, as well as others, and at the very badly damaged Aberdeen University Hospital.

 

     Our preventive medicine team worked closely with the International Organization on Migration, and we also worked with very capable ICRC hospital and later with the TNI hospital. 

 

     We left Banda Aceh on the 14th of March.  We then started our return trip home to San Diego, with a much-reduced staff.  We stopped for four days, working in Alor, Indonesia, and had done two days in Dili, East Timor, when we were called again to return back to Western Sumatra and Nias specifically, for earthquake disaster relief.

 

     That's where we are right now.  We've been here for well over a week, 12 days, almost two weeks, working off the coast of Nias Island.

 

     STAFF:  Thank you for that update, and I guess we'll go --

 

     CAPT. LLEWELLYN:  Do you have any questions for me?

 

     STAFF:  We'll go right into some questions right now.  Anyone like to start off?  Go ahead.

 

     Q     Yeah.  You said you had significantly -- this is Vince Crawley with Military Times newspapers.  You said you significantly reduced your staff, with the idea of embarking homeward.  How long -- did you get additional staff back when you reversed course?  And how did that work out?

 

     CAPT. LLEWELLYN:  Yes, absolutely.  We reversed course, and our additional staff met us in Singapore, and then some of them got sent back out to us here in Nias. 

Actually, they didn't meet us in Singapore.  They got sent to Singapore and then on to us in Nias.  So we got additional staff back again from Project Hope, both doctors and

nurses, and a significant augmentation of naval medical personnel, predominantly from Naval Medical Center San Diego, but also from Bethesda, some from Pendleton, some from Bremerton, and others. 

 

     But we're now back up to our initial -- essentially close to our initial level that we had when we had when we were in Banda Aceh, with almost 600 staff on board the ship.

 

     Q     And a follow-up.  I was given the impression when you first embarked after the tsunami that the idea of putting NGOs aboard the ship was a fairly new one.  How did that work?  What bureaucratic problems did you need to solve, and how has it worked to partner with them?

 

     CAPT. LLEWELLYN:  Well, it has worked very well because, again, we went in representing the spirit and heart of America, which only knows how to do things one way.  Yes, there were obviously some bureaucratic obstacles, but our job is to work together.  We've worked extremely well.  Any obstacles here were instantly overcome.  In fact, we didn't have any obstacles here on the ship.  Medical professionals working together.  Navy medicine alongside top-notch civilian medicine.  It was just a tremendous partnership.  

 

     Q     How many of them were there?

 

     (Cross talk.)

 

     Q     Approximately how many NGOs were aboard -- are aboard the ship?

 

     CAPT. LLEWELLYN:  At the moment, we have 47.  When we were in Banda Aceh, we had approximately 90, between 90 and 93.

 

     Q     Nick Simeone at Fox News.  Sir, how many people do you think you've treated?

 

     CAPT. LLEWELLYN:  Okay.  Would you like that answer for Nias or would you like that answer for Banda Aceh?

 

     Q     Going back to Nias and after the second quake.

 

     CAPT. LLEWELLYN:  Yes.  So far we've seen about 700 patients ashore.  We've done 48 major surgeries on board the ship.  These are really significant surgical procedures.  A lot of them are orthopedic in nature, from injuries that these patients received from the earthquake.  And obviously, we'll let Dr. Sechriest address those.

Currently we have 45 sick patients on board the ship. Yesterday we had 51.  We sent home a few more than we took in today.  And each of those patients comes with a family member.

 

A large number of dental cases ashore and optometry patients; so far in a number of days have given out almost 400 glasses.  We did a lot more than that in Banda Aceh, actually almost 5,000, but we've just started here, and a significant number of dental extractions, dental care.

 

     Q     And how long will you stay there before you ship out again?

 

     CAPT. LLEWELLYN:  We anticipate toward the end of the month. We're here -- obviously there's two parts -- at the invitation of the government of Indonesia, and orders from our higher headquarter authority.

 

     Q     This is Will Dunham with Reuters.  Could you also give us the numbers who you treated prior to changing locations after the recent earthquake?

 

     CAPT. LLEWELLYN:  The numbers from Alor and Dili, or from Banda Aceh, sir.  I'm sorry.

 

     Q     Aceh.

 

     CAPT. LLEWELLYN:  From Banda Aceh, yes.  I can give you those numbers.  We saw over 9,000 out patients in Banda Aceh. We did over -- almost 300 -- actually, 285 surgical procedures.  We did almost 2,000 radiological tests -- actually, 1,758, if you want an exact number.  Almost 5,000 prescriptions filled.  Over 4,000

laboratory procedures.  And again, as I said, almost 5,000 eyeglasses that were given.

 

     Q     Just to follow up.  If we take those numbers and add them to the previous numbers you gave, we would have the total number of patients you've seen during this deployment?

 

     CAPT. LLEWELLYN:  For those two locations.  But that doesn't include the -- in between those two, on our way home we were doing what we call MEDCAP/DENCAP, some medical civic action programs that are sort of medical humanitarian assistance programs, along the way home.  And we were doing a large number of out-patient care procedures and visits in Alor and in Dili.  But that's sort of a different nature. 

 

     But, yes, using the full capability of the hospital ship, adding those two together will give you a good indication. 

 

     Q     Can I just ask, how many beds is the ship outfitted for right now?

 

     CAPT. LLEWELLYN:  Approximately 50.  You know, the nursing staff, corps staff of 50 is what we are manned for. 

 

     STAFF:  Anybody else?  (Pause.) 

 

     All right, Captain.  Well, we appreciate this update.  It's been very useful.  And we appreciate you taking the time to fill us in on what you've been doing.  And we wish you the best as you complete your mission over there.

 

     Thank you very much.

 

 

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