By Steve Sternberg, USA TODAY
The U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort pulled up anchor Tuesday in Port-au-Prince and began the long trip home to Baltimore, ending its role in Operation Unified Response-Haiti.
The ship’s departure brings to a close a dramatic naval mission launched three days after the Haitian earthquake Jan. 12, when the ship’s crew ended scheduled maintenance midway and set sail to provide medical relief to a nation whose hospitals and clinics lay in ruins.
From Jan. 19 to Feb. 27, doctors treated nearly 1,000 patients, performed 843 surgeries, carried out 37 amputations, repaired dozens of bone fractures and delivered nine babies, says Capt. James Ware, the ship’s commanding officer. By late February, Ware says in an e-mail, the Haitian government began working with the Pan American Health Organization and other groups to improve the medical care on shore “with the ambition of building back to pre-earthquake medical levels.”
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor says the time has come to call the Comfort home. “The doctors on the USNS Comfort did a heroic job treating patients following the earthquake in Haiti and provided essential short-term support, but the Comfort is not a long-term solution,” he says.