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USNS Mercy to Care for Non-COVID-19 Patients in Los Angeles

March 23, 2020 | BY Terri Moon Cronk

In a matter of days, the Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy will sail from San Diego and dock in the port of Los Angeles to help lift the burden from local medical treatment facilities that need to focus their resources on patients affected by the coronavirus pandemic, a Navy official said today.

A large white ship is tied to a dock. The ship has the words “U.S. Naval Hospital Ship Mercy” on the side, along with a large red cross.
USNS Mercy
The USNS Mercy moors to the pier at Naval Base San Diego, Calif., upon returning from Pacific Partnership 2018, July 21, 2018.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Zach Kreitzer
VIRIN: 180721-N-PN275-1061

Navy Rear Adm. Timothy H. Weber, commander of the Naval Medical Corps Pacific and director of the Medical Service Corps, spoke with reporters at the Pentagon by telephone to update them on the Mercy's plans. He was joined by Navy Capt. (Dr.) John R. Rotruck, the ship's commanding officer.

More than 800 medical professionals, assembled over the last few days, will embark on the Mercy, the admiral said. The doctors, nurses, corpsmen, other medical professionals and mariners will help communities hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, he added. 

The Mercy normally handles combat casualty care, and its crew will not treat patients with the coronavirus, the admiral said. The ship and its staff will offer a broad range of medical and surgical support, with the exceptions of obstetrics and pediatrics.

Hospital workers train on a ship.
Ship Training
Sailors assigned to the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy participate in a mass casualty drill, Dec. 5, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Harley Sarmiento
VIRIN: 191205-N-NH199-1038M
A helicopter lands on USNS Mercy.
USNS Mercy
An MH-60S helicopter attached to the "Blackjacks" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21 lands on the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy, Sept 25, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Harley Sarmiento
VIRIN: 190925-N-NH199-1323M

Nearly 60 of the medical staff members are military reservists, Weber said. "We are honored to answer the call in a time of need," he added. 

"Today is a big day for the Mercy, Navy medicine and our national response to the coronavirus," Rotruck said.  He noted that Los Angeles has seen some of the greatest impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic to date.

"We will be ready on arrival to support [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and state and local efforts to protect the health of the American people in this whole-of-government approach directed by the president of the United States," the captain said.

Military medical ship USNS Mercy.
USNS Mercy
The Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy passes the USS Midway museum while navigating through the San Diego channel, Sept 23, 2018.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Harley Sarmiento
VIRIN: 190923-N-NH199-1083M

"We are not treating COVID-19 patients, and we are taking proactive measures to ensure anyone coming aboard is properly screened," Rotruck said. The Mercy has infectious disease prevention measures that will be followed just as any hospital ashore would, he added.

"We will be bringing relief to where we are needed most," the captain said. The Navy's hospital ships are uniquely outfitted, for humanitarian and disaster relief, and those serving on the ships are highly skilled and highly trained, he added.