UPDATED: Hospital Ship Mercy Departs San Diego for Los Angeles

March 23, 2020 6:51 AM - Updated: March 23, 2020 5:44 PM
Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest forklift driver Steve King prepares to deliver pallets during a supply load aboard Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) at Naval Base San Diego on March 21, 2020. US Navy Photo

This post has been updated with additional comments from a Navy media call on the deployment

Hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) has departed San Diego, Calif., this afternoon as part of the Pentagon response to the domestic spread of the COVD-19 virus, U.S. 3rd Fleet announced.

“The Department of Defense has been given direction to dispatch it to Los Angeles immediately. DOD has advised Mercy can get into position within a week or less of today’s order,” FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor said on Sunday.

While Navy officials told USNI News last week that the likely destination was Seattle, federal officials determined the need in California was greater.

“Even though there are more cases right now in Washington, the projected need for beds in California is five times more that of Washington,” Gaynor said.

Governors of both Washington and California have requested the Trump administration send the ship to their states.

When Mercy arrives at Los Angeles later this week, after performing some at-sea certifications, the 1,000-bed hospital ship will be staff with about 1,100 medical professionals.

The bulk of the staff will be active duty Navy, with 58 reservists expected to be aboard, Rear Adm. Timothy Weber, the commander of Naval Medical Forces Pacific, told reporters on Monday.

“They are coming from eight military treatment facilities in my region, in the Western region of the United States. They are not coming from overseas,” Weber said.
“These reservists are all volunteers and while they are medical professionals, they have self-identified as not being members of a clinical community helping their local jurisdiction with COVID-19.

The Mercy medical staff is being pulled from Navy medical professionals being pulled from eight such West Coast military treatment facilities as the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, Naval Hospital at Camp Pendleton, the Naval Hospital at Twentynine Palms, Calif., the Naval Hospital in Bremerton, Wash., and the Naval Health Clinic at Oak Harbor, Wash.

“Nine of Mercy’s 12 operating rooms will be staffed, but the ship does not plan to deliver babies, said Capt. John Rotruck, the commanding officer of the Medical Treatment Facility USNS Mercy.
“We are not going to be doing obstetrics care or pediatric care onboard the ship.”

On Sunday, President Donald Trump said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will build alternative care sites in three states that will handle thousands of patients, reported McClatchy.

Over the last week, the Navy has prepared Mercy to go underway as the virus has spread across the West Coast.

Sister ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., is also preparing to depart for a similar mission in New York City. Comfort was in the midst of a maintenance availability when the virus emerged in New York. Government officials in New York have predicted the height of the outbreak will occur in about 40 days.

At 17,000 testing positive
, New York has about five percent of world’s cases of COVID-19 Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a Sunday news conference. At least 150 have died.

The following is the complete March 23, 2020 release from U.S. 3rd Fleet.

Mercy to Depart San Diego
By Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet Public Affairs

SAN DIEGO – The hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) will depart Naval Station San Diego March 23 in support of the nation’s COVID-19 response efforts.

Mercy will depart Naval Base San Diego with over 800 Navy medical personnel and support staff with the afloat medical treatment facility (MTF), and more than 70 civil service mariners. The ship will serve as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based hospitals, and will provide a full spectrum of medical care to include critical and urgent care for adults. This will allow local health professionals to focus on treating COVID-19 patients and for shore-based hospitals to use their Intensive Care Units and ventilators for those patients.

Civil service mariners operate and navigate the ship, load and off-load mission cargo, assist with repairs to mission equipment and provide essential services to keep the MTF up and running.

Mercy’s MTF is an embarked crew of medical personnel from the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery responsible for operating and maintaining one of the largest trauma facilities in the United States.

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. Mercy’s secondary mission is to provide full hospital services to support U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide.

Mercy is the first of two Mercy-class hospital ships. A converted San Clemente-class supertanker, Mercy was delivered to the Navy’s Military Sealift Command Nov. 8, 1986.

Military Sealift Command operates the ships which sustain our warfighting forces and deliver specialized maritime services in support of national security objectives in peace and war.

U.S. 3rd Fleet leads naval forces in the Indo-Pacific and provides the realistic, relevant training necessary for an effective global Navy. U.S. 3rd Fleet works in close coordination with U.S. 7th Fleet to provide commanders with capable, ready assets across the spectrum of military operations in the Indo-Pacific.


Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Follow @samlagrone

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