In a video released for Mental Health Awareness Month, Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Carlos Del Toro announced the new name for the Navy’s next-generation hospital ships, known as the Expeditionary Medical Ship (EMS(X)).
The lead ship in the new class will be named USNS Bethesda (EMS 1), honoring the history and community of healthcare professionals at Naval Support Activity Bethesda.
The EMS(X) class of ships will now be recognized as the Bethesda Class Expeditionary Medical Ship. The vessels are specifically designed to provide hospital-level medical care in support of distributed maritime operations (DMO).
The Bethesda-class expeditionary medical ships feature a shallow draft, enabling them to reach shallow austere ports directly. They will also come equipped with a flight deck capable of accommodating military helicopters.
The Navy says the ships will offer a wide range of medical capabilities, including triage and critical care facilities, three operating rooms, a medical laboratory, radiological capability, blood bank, dental services, mental health support, OB/GYN and primary care, rapid stabilization and evacuation of multiple casualties, as well as combat search and rescue operations including recovery at sea. Their primary mission will be to provide rapid and responsive sea-based critical care, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, non-combatant evacuation operations, and special operations.
Compared to their predecessors, USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort, the EMS ships are designed to respond and provide care at a faster speed. They are capable of sailing at speeds of at least 30 knots, covering a range of 5,500 nautical miles at 24 knots.
Secretary Del Toro emphasized the significance of the name “Bethesda” in the armed services community, highlighting the world-class medical center that has been providing exceptional care to countless service members since 1942.
“The real strength of our Navy and Marine Corps are our people, and if they are willing to sacrifice all for service, they deserve the best medical care available. This ship will honor the medical staff, who compassionately dedicate their time and expertise to take care of our service members. Bearing the name Bethesda will continue the legacy of life saving and medical innovation,” said Secretary Del Toro.
The history of Bethesda can be traced back to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who envisioned a Navy Medical Center in the early 1900s. Congress approved funds for the construction of the Naval Medical Center in 1937, leading to the establishment of the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. Today, Naval Support Activity Bethesda houses various tenant commands, including the Naval Medical Leader and Professional Development Command, Naval Medical Research Center, Navy Medical Support Command, Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command, and the Navy Dosimetry Center.
Secretary Del Toro has extended an invitation to Dawn Moore, spouse of the 63rd Governor of Maryland Wes Moore, to serve as the ship’s sponsor. Mrs. Moore, a former military spouse and advocate for Marylanders living with disabilities, has strong connections to the military.
“This first-in-class ship will be state-of-the-art and the Navy’s first medical ship in 35 years,” said Del Toro. “This ship, designed with more expeditious and direct access to diagnostic, specialty and hospital care, will allow for increased capabilities and health care. Just as the hospital at NSA Bethesda has served as a beacon of hope to those who entered its doorways, USNS Bethesda (EMS 1) will serve as a beacon to those in need around the world.”
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