News: Hospital ship with Washington area ties completes Haiti mission, heads home
Story by Joseph P Cirone
The Baltimore-based hospital ship USNS Comfort has completed its humanitarian relief mission in Haiti in the aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake and is returning home after providing lifesaving medical care and having its non-emergent health-care mission assumed by land-based medical facilities and field hospitals in Haiti.
Upon hearing the news that Comfort completed its mission, Vice Adm. Adam Robinson, Jr., the Navy surgeon general, commended the efforts of the crew for a job well done. "I am incredibly proud of the professionals who came together on short notice to make the deployment happen," he stated.
During its return voyage, the ship will make a port call, arriving in Baltimore some time in the near future, according to officials at the Military Sealift Command. MSC operates the Comfort and is headquartered at Naval Support Activity Washington's Washington Navy Yard.
As relief efforts in Haiti increased and medical treatment facilities ashore expanded their capability to treat more patients and provide greater care, the number of earthquake victims needing assistance from the Comfort declined. Comfort's last patient was transferred for follow-on care, to a recovery facility in Haiti, Feb. 27.
Patients aided before arriving on-scene
On Jan. 20, hours before anchoring off Port-au-Prince, Comfort began supporting humanitarian relief efforts in Haiti when five patients were airlifted to the ship at night by a U.S. Navy MH-60S helicopter deployed from USS Carl Vinson.
To meet the disaster relief and humanitarian mission, nearly 1,288 medical personnel from the U.S. military, including over 300 personnel from the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. and more than 240 nongovernmental organizations, were embarked and treating earthquake survivors.
Participating NGOs included Red Cross, Operation Smile, University of California, Los Angeles, Johns Hopkins, Project Hope, Orthopaedic Trauma Association, University of Michigan and National Nurses United, according to the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.
Operational capabilities of the ship were expanded to 1,000 hospital beds to help meet the needs of the approximately three million Haitians affected by the earthquake.
During the mission, the ship worked closely with Haiti's Ministry of Health and health care professionals from the U.S. Agency for International Development, international relief organizations and NGOs to secure follow-on care for patients.
Cmdr. Tim Donahue, Comfort's director of surgery, said Comfort's military and civilian medical personnel treated 871 patients and performed 843 surgeries. The ship's 10 operating rooms were utilized at full capacity to care for injured earthquake survivors and military personnel.
Within the first 10 days, 540 critically injured earthquake survivors were treated; with one patient being received every six to nine minutes at the height of the recovery effort, Donahue said.
1,500 medical professionals deployed ashore and afloat
"Navy Medicine deployed approximately 1,500 medical and non-medical personnel to both afloat and ashore units throughout the region in support of the relief mission in Haiti and received support from TRICARE, Army and Air Force medicine and Navy Reservists to ensure there were minimal impacts on patients and beneficiaries stateside," Navy Medicine spokesman Cdr. Cappy Surette stated.
Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command, said, "Their efforts saved the lives of many patients and helped everyone treated begin the important process of recovery. Their rapid response and contribution to the international relief efforts in Haiti helped the country overcome an urgent medical crisis at a time when access to surgical care on the ground was very limited."
In summarizing the mission, Robinson reflected, "Comfort has been a shining beacon of hope since she arrived. Our medical team on board the hospital ship - and on other ships providing support - have performed admirably in an intense and dynamic situation. Medicine is a common language that all people understand, and it is a way to bridge differences."