Hospital Ship USNS Mercy Sails to Relieve Los Angeles' Medical System

USNS Mercy sets sail from Naval Station San Diego (USN)

Published Mar 23, 2020 9:45 PM by The Maritime Executive

The hospital ship USNS Mercy departed Naval Station San Diego on Monday and is under way for Los Angeles, where she will provide backup capacity as the local health system gears up for COVID-19 cases. 

Mercy departed Naval Base San Diego with over 800 Navy medical personnel and support staff on board, along with about 70 civil service mariners. The ship will serve as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based hospitals, and she will provide general surgeries, critical care and ward care for adults. This will allow local health providers to focus on treating COVID-19 patients and conserve ICUs and ventilators for those who need it most.

"This global crisis demands whole-of-government response, and we are ready to support,” said Capt. John Rotruck, who heads Mercy's medical division. “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."

USNS Mercy is a converted merchant tanker, and she is one of two giant Navy hospital ships equipped and maintained to support expeditionary warfare. Her secondary mission is to provide hospital services to support U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian operations. Her medical crew is made up of personnel from the Navy's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

As recently as Friday, it appeared as though USNS Mercy was going to sail to Seattle, the West Coast's coronavirus epicenter. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee had appealed to the Trump administration to secure the vessel for the Puget Sound region. However, President Donald Trump announced Sunday that Mercy would head for Los Angeles instead. Washington State is expected to receive equivalent support from FEMA using shoreside facilities. 

"While I am very disappointed the USNS Mercy is not coming to [Washington], I appreciate that federal field hospitals are on the way to help with increased medical needs," Gov. Inslee said. "My staff and I will keep working until we have the resources necessary to care for all Washingtonians."