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Hospital ships Comfort, Mercy deploy in battle against COVID-19

Stepping up to assist in the nation’s battle against COVID-19, Military Sealift Command’s hospital ships USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) and USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) have arrived in port at Los Angeles and New York City, respectively.

One of the DoD’s missions is Defense Support of Civil Authorities. DoD is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal agency, as well as state, local and public health authorities in helping protect the health and safety of the American people.

Mercy arrived March 27 and Comfort March 30 to begin serving as referral hospitals for non-COVID-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based hospitals, and will provide a full spectrum of medical care to include general surgeries, critical care, and ward care for adults. This will allow local health professionals and hospitals to focus on treating COVID-19 patients and to use their Intensive Care Units and ventilators for those patients.

Each hospital ships’ medical treatment facility (MTF) is staffed with approximately 1,100 Navy personnel and support staff from various commands, as well as more than 70 civil service mariners, and each of them is ready to serve.

“The gravity of the mission is understood by every person who comes aboard the ship,” said Capt. Patrick Amersbach, commanding officer of the MTF aboard Comfort. “We understand that our nation, specifically the people of New York, have requested our assistance and we are ready to respond. I’m so proud of our crew during this challenging time as they leave their families and loved ones at home to respond to this national emergency to care for our fellow Americans.”

That sentiment was echoed by Capt. John Rotruck, Mercy’s MTF commanding officer, when he said, “I couldn’t be more proud of our crew for all the hard work they did to get us here and ready in such a short time. Being able to accept our first patients is a true testament of the teamwork between Mercy, the Navy, the State of California, the county of Los Angeles, and the City and Port of L.A.”

Also underway with the response deployment are more than 120 Reserve Sailors aboard Comfort and 60 more aboard Mercy — all from a group of Navy Reserve medical professionals and other ratings selected by Commander, Navy Reserve Forces Command.

Though the ability to rapidly provide support to missions like this is a key purpose of the continual training and mobilization readiness efforts of the Navy Reserve, the motivated response from the volunteer Sailors was still remarkable, said Rear Adm. John Schommer, deputy commander for Commander, Navy Reserve Force.

“We diligently ensured our volunteer Reservists were available to support the medical relief efforts without impacting their local and state communities,” Schommer said. “When we were asked to help find medical professionals to help support this mission, we received hundreds of volunteer requests from our reserve medical community in less than 24 hours.”

Mercy and Comfort each contain 12 fully-equipped operating rooms, a 1,000 bed hospital facility, digital radiological services, a medical laboratory, a pharmacy, an optometry lab, a CAT-scan, a blood bank with up to 5,000 units of blood, and two oxygen producing plants. Each ship is also equipped with a helicopter deck capable of landing large military helicopters.

Patient transfers to each ship will be coordinated with local hospitals in each city, thus ensuring a consistent handoff of care between medical providers. No patients will be seen on a walk-on basis.

The primary mission of the hospital ships is to provide an afloat, mobile, acute surgical medical facility to the U.S. military that is flexible, capable, and uniquely adaptable to support expeditionary warfare. Their secondary mission is to provide full hospital services to support U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide.

When not deployed, Comfort is kept in reduced operating status in Baltimore, Maryland, and Mercy in San Diego, California, where personnel maintain the ships in a high state of readiness. When deployed, the ships are operated navigated and maintained by a crew of civil service mariners for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command.

Military Sealift Command operates approximately 120 non-combatant, civilian-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, chart ocean bottoms, conduct undersea surveillance, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military equipment and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces.