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USNS Mercy, USNS Comfort Receiving Patients in LA, New York City

April 2, 2020 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

To free overwhelmed local hospitals focusing on patients with COVID-19, the Navy hospital ships USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort are docked on both U.S. coasts to provide medical and surgical care to non-COVID-19 patients.
 

The USNS Mercy is in Los Angeles under the command of Navy Capt. John R. Rotruck, and the USNS Comfort is in New York City with Navy Capt. Patrick Amersbach in charge. 

Both captains briefed reporters at the Pentagon by telephone today.

Hospital staff care for a patient.
Patient Treatment
Sailors treat a patient aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy, April 1, 2020. The Mercy deployed to Los Angeles in support of the nation's COVID-19 pandemic response and will admit non-COVID-19 patients referred from local hospitals. This allows shore-based hospitals to focus their efforts on COVID-19 cases.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan M. Breeden
VIRIN: 200401-N-PH222-1033

Since onboard medical personnel are not treating patients with COVID-19, referring hospitals are screening and testing patients for the virus before they're transferred to the Mercy or the Comfort.

So far, the Mercy has treated 15 Los Angeles-area patients, and the Comfort admitted its first three patients late yesterday, the captains said. Each ship has a 1,000-bed capacity and is well equipped for meeting the medical and surgical needs in their assigned communities.

"We are honestly looking forward to seeing a significant increase in patients being transferred to the Comfort today," Amersbach said.

To transfer patients between facilities, hospitals in Los Angeles call in to a centralized countywide medical alert center that coordinates the move. The Mercy is now part of that system providing patient care, Rotruck said.

We are honored to answer the call in the time of need and are committed to protecting the health of our force and the health of our nation."
Navy Capt. John R. Rotruck, commander of the USNS Mercy

The number of patients sent to the Navy hospital ships is driven by demand for the local hospitals based on their current capacity, the Mercy's captain explained, adding that the floating hospitals are supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency as the lead agency, as well as state authorities.

On the East Coast, the Comfort taps into a central communications and referral system coordinated through the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City. The center has local health officials working with FEMA to ensure hospital transfers take place smoothly and that patients transferring to the Comfort are COVID-19-free and "suitable for that environment," Amersbach said.

The Mercy has accommodated patients recovering from traumatic accidents and those suffering from gastrointestinal, heart and lung problems. "[We're seeing] pretty much the gamut of patients that you'd expect to see in a community hospital," Rotruck said.

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"Professionals aboard USNS Mercy left Naval Base San Diego March 23, after receiving a five-day notice of deployment," the captain said. "Although we have never responded to a pandemic, this is the type of mission that we train for, as our ship is uniquely outfitted for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief," he added.

The Mercy staff came together as a team quickly, Rotruck said. "We are accomplishing our mission and showing the power of Navy medicine in support of the American people," he added. "And we will stay here until it is decided that our support seems no longer necessary. We are honored to answer the call in the time of need and are committed to protecting the health of our force and the health of our nation."

"The hope is that our presence [will help] local hospitals focus on treatment of COVID-19 patients, … and we are grateful to serve the needs of our nation," Amersbach, the Comfort's captain, said. 

A large white ship with red crosses docks in New York City.
USNS Comfort
The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort arrives in New York Harbor to support the national, state and local response to the COVID-19 pandemic, March 30, 2020. The ship will provide 1,000 beds for urgent-care patients not infected with the virus, relieving pressure on local hospital systems.
Photo By: Kenneth Wilsey, FEMA
VIRIN: 200330-O-KW201-401

The goal of the Defense Department's senior leadership was to get the capability and capacity of the Mercy and the Comfort in place before local hospitals were overwhelmed, Rotruck said. That way, the ships' medical teams are able to establish local relationships and ensure the processes for transferring patients to their facilities are meeting the needs of each location.

"When the capacity demand really increases, we'll be ready," he said.