Hospital ship heads to Haiti to help quake survivorsThe ship has an 80-bed intensive care unit, a 20-bed recovery room and 16 wards for patients and their families
By Steve Sternberg
ONBOARD THE USNS COMFORT — As the ship pitched and rolled beneath them, two dozen doctors and nurses staged their first rehearsal Monday for an expected onslaught of Haitian earthquake survivors.
The medical team is part of a contingent of doctors, nurses and technicians onboard the Comfort, one of the world's biggest hospital ships that is the flagship of a massive U.S. humanitarian rescue mission, dubbed Operation Unified Response in Haiti. The ship left the Port of Baltimore on Saturday in a record 66 hours after receiving orders to provide medical care to desperate people 1,300 nautical miles away.
Now cruising at nearly 15 knots (17 mph) off the Florida coast, the Comfort is expected to reach Haiti as early as Wednesday.
As part of preparations, medical staffers walked through the gleaming operating rooms, intensive care units, recovery rooms and wards assessing what just a few days ago looked like a storage facility for used hospital equipment.
The Comfort now has seven of its 12 operating rooms ready to go, with two more "crash rooms" on standby if they're needed for emergency surgery. The ship has an 80-bed intensive care unit, a 20-bed recovery room and 16 wards for patients and their families, said Navy Capt. Jim Ware, who leads the ship's medical team.
"We could have 60,000 people who need medical care, and 10% of those will require intensive care," said Capt. Dennis Amundson, ICU director. "That will way outdo what we can handle in our ICU beds, but we'll take the sickest."
There are approximately 250 doctors and dozens of nurses and technicians in the 700-person crew. About 350 more doctors, nurses and support staff are expected to meet the ship in Haiti, Ware said.
The military is also setting up a 250-bed hospital at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to take patients once they've been stabilized to free up the Comfort's beds.
The burden of caring for so many injured people is expected to outstrip anything the ship has encountered, said Navy Cmdr. Tim Donahue, chief of surgical operations. During six months off the coast of Iraq in 2003, military surgeons patched up about 700 men and women with combat injuries.
That's a fraction of the medical care the ship's doctors expect to provide to quake-battered people with injuries and infections compounded by exposure, dehydration and starvation.
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