Hospital Ship Mercy No Longer Treating Patients, Remains in L.A. for COVID-19 Support

May 7, 2020 5:07 PM
Pfc. Arnoldo RomeroVelazco, with 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, post security to secure the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) in Los Angeles, Calif., on March 27, 2020. US Navy Photo

Six weeks after arriving in Los Angeles to help regional hospitals cope with the COVID-19 outbreak, hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) discharged its final patient on Tuesday, five days after it stopped receiving patients, USNI News has learned.

Mercy, which is still berthed at the city’s port in San Pedro, hadn’t admitted new patients for treatment since April 30 “at the direction of” the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and U.S. Northern Command officials, Cmdr. John Fage, a U.S. 3rd Fleet spokesman, said Thursday. The last patient was discharged on May 5.

The ship’s Medical Treatment Facility personnel, an 800-plus organization including skilled doctors, nurses and technicians, treated a total of 77 patients whose treatment ranged from basic medical and surgical care to trauma care, Fage said.

Mercy arrived at the port March 27 to serve as a “relief valve” for state and local medical authorities who anticipated heavy demands on health facilities from the widening coronavirus pandemic. The idea for the federally-led, COVID-19 support mission was for Mercy – as well as sister ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) that deployed to New York City – to shoulder some of the burden of trauma, surgical and other acute care cases so hospitals could focus efforts on the infectious disease patients.

But much like Comfort experienced as its MTF treated a total of 182 patients before returning May 2 to Norfolk, Va., the regional predictions in Los Angeles never materialized. Medical teams on Mercy didn’t see a big demand for patients transferred to the ship from local facilities – even as the ship dealt with some coronavirus cases among the medical staff on board.

Last month, some of Mercy’s medical personnel were assigned off the ship. About 40 personnel continue to support state health care providers while assigned to a skilled nursing facility in nearby Orange County, Fage said.

Additional medical teams from Mercy “are ready to support” and deploy to other similar local facilities if requested, said Lt. Andrew Bertucci, a Mercy spokesman.

The MTF personnel, who have been staying at local hotels, are continuing to work their shifts “and getting the ship cleaned and kind of closing out spaces that aren’t necessary,” Bertucci said. While the bulk of the personnel who arrived in March remain with the ship, “a few have gone back to their parent commands as the number of patients decreased.”

“We’re still in Los Angeles supporting FEMA and state authorities and local agencies supporting skilled nursing facilities,” he said. “We’re still here to support the state of California and address whatever their needs are.”

California continues to see a daily increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths – with 60,614 cases and 2,504 deaths – but also a slight decrease in hospitalizations, according to state data. State officials will loosen some business restrictions starting Friday. Los Angeles County remains the most affected county in the state, with 28,867 confirmed cases and 1,367 deaths.

Each of the Navy’s two hospital ships, 894-foot-long former supertankers, supports the embarked MTF-run hospital that can be structured based on specific medical needs and with a 250- to 500-bed hospital that can expand to 1,000 beds, if needed.

Gidget Fuentes

Gidget Fuentes

Gidget Fuentes is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She has spent more than 20 years reporting extensively on the Marine Corps and the Navy, including West Coast commands and Pacific regional issues.

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