The USNS Comfort hospital ship is headed to earthquake-ravaged Haiti for its biggest mission ever, and a story by The Baltimore Sun's Joe Burris outlines the challenges. Military Sealift Command spokeswoman Laura Seal said the staff of more than 600 (including 560 medical personnel and 65 civil service mariners) is on an open-ended mission. And the crew expects to encounter horrific conditions on the island.
"When we go to casualty situations on a grand scale, we're going to see things like skull fractures, aneurysms and neurological issues," said Chad Singer, a hospital corpsman from New York. "We'll have ventilators. We'll have people with severe blood loss, so we'll have to do transfusions."
The 894-foot ship provides full hospital services to support disaster relief in the U.S. and worldwide. It has one of the largest trauma facilities in the country and also has four X-rays, one CAT scan unit, an MRI unit, a dental suite, a pharmacy and an optometry and lens laboratory. The ship maintains up to 5,000 units of blood and can serve as many as 1,000 patients.
It marks the second time in less than a year that it will head to Haiti. In July, the ship served as the platform for humanitarian and civic assistance in Haiti and other Caribbean nations. It treated more than 100,000 patients.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Olivero of Frederick said that one of the biggest challenges in readying the ship for the Haiti mission is supplies. "While we're in port, we don't do procedures, we don't take care of patients. So the supplies that sit on board sometimes expire."
Baltimore Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum