Hospital Ship Waits Off San Juan, But Sees Few Patients

Comfort gets under way for Puerto Rico (USN)

By The Maritime Executive 10-17-2017 07:49:29

The hospital ship USNS Comfort departed a pier in San Juan on October 5 on a voyage to other regions of the storm-battered island. As she waits out at sea for orders for her next destination, her facilities remain underutilized, reports CNN, despite high demand for medical services on shore. Just 33 out of her 250 beds are filled, and the reason appears to be bureaucratic: patients aren't being referred. 

Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello confirmed that the ship has received relatively few storm survivors. Over the course of two weeks in or near Puerto Rico, the vessel has treated 100 people, or about one patient for every eight medical personnel aboard.

“The disconnect or the apparent disconnect was in the communications flow,” said Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello. “I asked for a complete revision of that so that we can now start sending more patients over there.” The Navy says that U.S. Health and Human Services and Puerto Rico Department of Health are prioritizing patients at each stop along the Comfort's route for treatment. 

Comfort's mission in Puerto Rico is to back up the island's hospital system, which was hit hard by Hurricane Maria and the subsequent power outages. She carries with her 12 operating rooms, 800 medical personnel, a helicopter squadron for medevac operations and a cargo of food, water and bottled oxygen. On her own, she is among the largest trauma hospitals in the United States. 

Her last AIS position recorded by a shore station was received on October 10, and it showed Comfort located about 60 nm off the north coast of Puerto Rico. The Navy says that additional visits are being planned for her around the island.

Comfort's medical team delivers baby girl

On October 14, the Comfort's crew welcomed their newest patient – Sara Victoria Llull Rodriguez, 6.5 pounds, born on board at a position off San Juan. 

"I never thought that our special moment would happen here on this ship," said Francisco Llull Vera, Sara's father. "Everyone has been so helpful and gentle while caring for our baby. I hope this opens the door for those who still need help to seek out the Comfort." 

Sara is already popular among the ship's crew, and the master, Roger Gwinn, has renamed one of the Comfort's tenders as the Sara Victoria in her honor. "We expected to see a lot of patients, but we weren't sure how often we'd get to utilize [the maternity ward]," said Lt. Karri Washbon, a labor and delivery nurse who assisted with Sara's birth. "With every birth there is a unique story and we are glad to be a part of their experience. Now everyone just wants to see the baby!"