Here Comes the Comfort

The Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort  departs Naval Station Norfolk, March 28, 2020. It arrived in New York Harbor March 30. / Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy, taken by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan Clay

Some help is on the way. The USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship, arrived in New York Harbor on Monday with 1,000 badly needed beds to support the city’s stressed healthcare system. The ship should begin taking patients tomorrow.

As the number of coronavirus patients continues to rise in New York City, the Comfort will serve as a referral hospital for patients not infected with COVID-19 by providing full-spectrum medical care, including general surgeries.

New York City has become the epicenter of a pandemic that has claimed 775 lives throughout the five boroughs as of Sunday, almost a third of the national total. In a span of two weeks, more New Yorkers have succumbed to COVID-19 than were victims of homicide (318) in all of 2019.    

“The gravity of this mission is understood by every person who comes aboard the ship,” Captain Patrick Amersbach, commanding officer of the medical treatment facility) aboard the Comfort, told NYCityLens. “We understand that the people of New York have requested our assistance and we are ready to respond. I am proud of our crew as they leave their families during this national emergency to care for our fellow Americans.”

The Comfort is staffed with 1,100 sailors and marines from the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. Recently refitted at Naval Base Norfolk in Virginia, the 900-foot converted supertanker was due to arrive for pandemic support operations a month from now but expedited the schedule due to the escalating public health crisis in New York City.

Designed to treat U.S. wartime casualties, the Comfort will provide a respite to overwhelmed city hospital staff. Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, for example, has been operating at 125 percent capacity and sustained 13 patient fatalities due to COVID-19 in a 24-hour span alone on March 27.

The last time the Comfort was deployed in support of a domestic operations was to the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

All patient transfers will be coordinated with local hospitals to ensure a consistent hand off of care between medical providers. (Patients will not be accepted on a walk-on basis and should not come to the pier with the expectation of receiving care.)  

“The men and women of our military accomplish incredible things every day and I am confident in their abilities as we start the next phase of this mission,” said Captain James O’Brien, commodore of Amphibious Squadron Six and the Task Force New York City mission commander.