By Lt. j.g. Samuel Boyle
The Mercy-class Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), underway near the coast of the Arecibo-Manati region of Puerto Rico, received four critical patients from Hospital Menonita in Caguas, Puerto Rico, after its generator failed, Oct. 6.
"We are a mobile platform that can respond to the greatest area of need or act as a strut to help the Puerto Rican health system," said Capt. Kevin Buckley, commanding officer of the medical treatment facility onboard Comfort. "We are engaged and determined to relieve human suffering."
The hospital ship was able to respond by coordinating with U.S. Health and Human Services and the Puerto Rico Department of Health, who engaged in a Medical Summit onboard Comfort immediately upon the ship's arrival in Puerto Rico.
"The formation of a Medical Operations Center within the Joint Forces Land Component Commander (JFLCC) Joint Operations Center was determined as a critical need during the planning sessions," said Capt. Kevin Robinson, mission commander aboard Comfort. "Today, this streamlined the flow of ordering Comfort to respond to a critical need to relieve pressure on the Puerto Rican medical community."
Patients were medevaced by the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) and USNS Comfort's detachments of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22, the "Sea Knights".
"The teamwork of Puerto Rico Department of Health, U.S. Health and Human Services, the JFLCC, USS Wasp, and Comfort led to the successful medevac of four critically-ill patients for further medical treatment. The ship's crew, the medical treatment facility and the liaison officers from Puerto Rico Department of Health and U.S. Health and Human Services exemplified the spirit of Americans in times of crises. I couldn't be more proud of the opportunity to work with these individuals," Robinson said.
Comfort, with the assistance of Army Black Hawk helicopters, had medevaced critical patients from Ryder Memorial Hospital in Humacao, Puerto Rico two days prior, after its generator also failed.
Comfort has treated 75 patients ranging from six months to 89 years in age and performed numerous procedures such as gastrostomy tube placement, colectomies, sacral-decubitus ulcer debridement, as well as treated for wounds, hernias and pneumonia.
Comfort is part of the whole-of-government response effort and is assisting FEMA, the lead federal agency, in helping those affected by Hurricane Maria.
Comfort is a seagoing medical treatment facility that currently has more than 800 personnel embarked for the Puerto Rico mission including Navy medical and support staff assembled from 22 commands, as well as over 70 civil service mariners.
The hospital ship has one of the largest trauma facilities in the United States and is equipped with four X-ray machines, one CT scan unit, a dental suite, an optometry lens laboratory, physical therapy center, pharmacy, angiography suite, and two oxygen-producing plants.
Comfort'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. Comfort's secondary mission is to provide full hospital services to support U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide.