Hospital Ship ‘Mercy’ Steaming to Los Angeles to Assist with COVID-19 Response

Mike Schuler
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March 23, 2020
The USNS Mercy, a Navy hospital ship, departs the Naval Station San Diego and heads to the Port of Los Angeles to aid local medical facilities dealing with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients, in San Diego, California, U.S., March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake

The U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy departed her homeport at Naval Station San Diego today and is now underway to Los Angeles in support of the nation’s COVID-19 response effort. 

USNS Mercy left port with over 800 Navy medical personnel and support staff who will help treat non-COVID-19 patients aboard, and relieve local hospitals ashore by providing medical care including general surgeries, critical care and ward care for adults, the Navy said in a statement.

“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,” it said. 

Mercy is the first of two Mercy-class hospital ships operated by the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. It’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.”

The Mercy-class hospital ships are equipped with 1,000 hospital beds, 11 general operation suites, 15 patient wards and 80 intensive care beds, according to the Navy’s website. 

A crew of over 70 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 “medical treatment facility (MTF)” up and running. Mercy’s MTF is an embarked crew of medical personnel from the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, which is responsible for operating and maintaining one of the largest trauma facilities in the United States.

“This global crisis demands whole of government response, and we are ready to support,” said Capt. John Rotruck, Mercy’s Military Treatment Facility commanding officer. “Mercy brings a team of medical professionals, medical equipment, and supplies, all of which will act, in essence, as a ‘relief valve’ for local civilian hospitals in Los Angeles so that local health professionals can better focus on COVID-19 cases. We will use our agility and responsiveness as an afloat Medical Treatment Facility to do what the country asks, and bring relief where we are needed most.” 

According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, as of Monday there have been 536 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across all areas of LA County, including seven deaths and 90 hospitalizations. 

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase over the last 48 hours and sadly, we expect positive case counts to rise dramatically over the next three weeks,” said Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County Public Health Director.

Statewide, California now has 1,733 confirmed cases and 27 deaths.  

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