The U.S. Navy’s hospital ship, USNS Mercy is open and seeing patients in the Port of Los Angeles according to the U.S. Navy. The ship will serve as a hospital for non-COVID-19 patients.
The Mercy is capable of providing full medical care including critical care and general surgery. The ship is in Los Angeles to allow civilian health care professionals to focus on treating COVID-19 patients. The mission was created to alleviate the volume of patients at Los Angeles area hospitals and allow those medical facilities to use their equipment on treating COVID-19 patients.
According to the Navy, the Mercy’s primary mission “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,” officials said. The ship’s secondary mission is to provide hospital services to support U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide.
On the east coast, the USNS Comfort arrived in New York March 30 and will begin seeing patients as early as March 31. The Comfort was in port for maintenance for a scheduled four weeks, but when the call came that the ship was needed, it was ready in four days. The ship set out from Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia on March 28 and made it to New York City two days later. The Comfort, like the Mercy, is also going to see non-COVID-19 patients to alleviate a burgeoned New York healthcare system.
Both ships are equipped with 12 operating rooms, 1,000 hospital beds, medical laboratory, operating rooms, pharmacy, optometry lab, digital radiology, blood banks, medical equipment repair shops, a CAT scan, prosthetics and physical therapy capability. The ships will also manage trauma cases and other emergencies. The Mercy and Comfort are the longest-serving hospital ships in continuous operation in U.S. history.
Hospital ships date back to the early 1800s when the USS Intrepid was used as a hospital ship after being reconfigured. That model, for the most part, is applied today. To date, only one ship, the USS Relief, was built to serve as a hospital ship. The Mercy and the Comfort were converted from other uses into hospital ships.
In 1918, during an influenza pandemic, two Navy hospital ships were briefly stationed in New York to care for overflow patients. In 1933, the Navy sent doctors and corpsmen from the USS Relief to Long Beach in response to an earthquake. Years later in 1989, the Mercy responded to the Loma Prieta earthquake by providing food and shelter for disaster victims.
According to the Navy, since 2001, the Comfort and Mercy have participated in 19 humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions, including Operation Unified Assistance, the U.S. military response to the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean. The ships treated more than 550,000 patients.
Following the attacks of 9-11 in 2001, the Comfort was sent to New York City and in 2005, the Comfort deployed to the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where it treated 1,258 patients in Louisiana and Mississippi.
As of March 30, the U.S. Navy states that 144 of its military members have tested positive for COVID-19, seven have been hospitalized and 14 have recovered. In total, to include Navy civilians, dependents and contractors, as well as uniformed personnel, the Navy has 213 COVID-19 cases.
Lastly, about 450 naval medical personnel are deploying to Texas and Louisiana to assist with combating the COVID-19 outbreak U.S. Northern Command announced Monday.