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Navy Lab Studying Whether Smaller Ships Could Host Surgical Facilities

 Lt. Cmdr. Obi Ugochukwu, left, and Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Keith Griffin prepare a patient for surgery aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson on Jan. 1, 2015. US Navy photo.

Lt. Cmdr. Obi Ugochukwu, left, and Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Keith Griffin prepare a patient for surgery aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson on Jan. 1, 2015. US Navy photo.

A Navy laboratory is investigating whether smaller U.S. Navy ships could host hospital facilities to support surgeries at sea.

Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division is looking into the possibility of conducting surgeries aboard the Littoral Combat Ship, Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPT) (formerly known as the Joint High Speed Vessel) and other “alternative platforms.” A Human Systems Integration Team, headed by NSWC PCD Biodynamics Laboratory engineer Eric Pierce, is hosting a proof-of-concept study from Aug. 31 to Oct. 9, 2015, to “deliver qualitative analysis to determine the feasibility of conducting select surgical procedures during high sea states,” according to a Navy statement.

“Once we have the study’s findings, we’ll take that information and give to leadership for further exploration to determine the feasibility on smaller navy vessels, using modeling and simulation of the high speed vessels and littoral combat ships,” chief of naval operations staff medical analyst Lt. Cmdr. Randy Dee said in the statement.

The select surgical procedures included in the study are stabilizing a fractured pelvis, treating a displaced femur fracture, treating an open wound of the abdominal wall, and a traumatic amputation of the leg. A medical team – consisting of a surgeon, a nurse, a surgical technician and an anesthesiologist – would conduct simulated surgeries in a realistic environment in up to sea state five conditions.

In addition to the Navy’s two hospital ships – USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) and USNS Comfort (T-AH-20), which each have 12 operating rooms and up to 1,000 beds – larger ship classes have advanced medical capabilities. The Nimitz-class aircraft carriers have about 50 beds in the inpatient ward and three beds in the intensive care unit, as well as an operating room, dental surgical spaces and other supporting facilities. The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship has a much larger surgical capability – six operating rooms and 64 hospital beds – though the new America-class big decks will have just two operating rooms and 24 beds, according to a Marine Corps amphibious capabilities document.

Both the LCS and the high speed vessels are known for having vast amounts of open space that could host a range of specialized packages, including medical facilities, but the smaller size of the ship may make them more susceptible to turbulence in high sea states. The study will determine what combinations of surgeries and sea states are feasible and safe for patients.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Dad’s “battle station” while a Pharmacist Mate aboard a destroyer (DD-384) in the Pacific during WW-II was a temporary table placed over the head in sickbay. If they could do it then, they can do it again.

    • Pat Patterson

      The USS Dunlap. Yes, but destroyers were limited in their medical capacity as to what procedures could be done. Certainly they could likely do appendectomies but anything more complicated had to be transferred to a larger medical platform.

      • publius_maximus_III

        I’m not sure what all procedures could be performed on board, but I do know they had a genuine Doctor, and probably one or two other Pharmacist Mates besides Dad. One injury they had to deal with was when part of a sailor’s foot got amputated in a gun mount by the loader, when the ship’s guns were switched from manual to “auto” (I guess to be aimed together from the fire control center). The ship had been at battle stations all day long, and I think he must’ve dozed off at the wrong time, with his foot propped in the wrong place.

  • John B. Morgen

    Anything is possible on board smaller warships, but provided that the warships have space set aside for medical operations; and also have full medical staff on board. All this should be considered during the designing process, just before the keel is ever laid down.

    • Secundius

      @ John B. Morgen.

      Actually, it does make sense. Having Preposition’d Ship’s “Scattered” in Vital Area’s, having Fast Moving “Ambulance” Ship’s, instead of “Hospital” Ship’s. Your ONLY as Fast as your Slowest Moving Ship’s, and Typical Hospital Ships are limited to under 20-knots maximum…

      • John B. Morgen

        Instead of the building LCS (sloops) as warships, then why not build them as fast moving (FAHL)s as you suggested—Secundius. Yes, our hospital ships (AH) are slow at 17 knots. However, I came up with an AH design that encompasses the San Antonio class (LPD-17), but build them larger than 800 feet, and with dock well, flight deck and hangar. The speed requirement for this AH would be at 25 knots or better; then I would convert all LCSs into FAHLs.
        .
        Note: FAHL (Fast Hospital Ship Light)

        • Secundius

          @ John B. Morgen.

          Another proposal was to the Same with ex-Tarawa and Wasp class Gator-Freighters. Convert them into Hospital Ships…

          • John B. Morgen

            Either Tarawa and Wasp classes would do, but to utilize some decommissioned Tarawas would be most prudent to convert into AHDs.

  • old guy

    In the 70’s the navy developed a “MASH” equivalent that fit in an 8X8X12 container.

  • WarheadHBX

    One of the main thrusts of the article/study is the effect of sea states on possible procedures.

  • John B. Morgen

    During World War II the British Royal Navy converted a few of its frigates into rescue ships for North Atlantic and Arctic convoy operations. These ships operated with the convoys, and their only mission was to picked up survivors as much as possible before they died from the freezing cold. exposure. I assume these frigates had on board medical facilities and staff to handle the wounded and cold exposed survivors. These frigates were no more than a 1,000 tons; therefore, it is possible the Navy could convert all of its LCS (sloops) into fast hospital ships or FAHLs…..

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  • How about a surgical module. I am sure there land based units already that could be adapted for LCS, etc. Also might be able to fix into helo hangers of smaller ships. Just keep the contractors out of the mix and KISS.

  • redgriffin

    Maybe we should build an deploy more hospital ships.