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Nurse Supports COVID-19 Response in NYC

Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Scott Bigley

The Military Sealift Command (MSC) hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) arrived in New York City on March 30 supporting state and local health officials in response to the nation’s COVID-19 outbreak.

The purpose of the mission is to take patients in an effort to relieve pressure from the hospitals that are near capacity.

The crew of Comfort is made up of Sailors from around the fleet and civil service mariners from MSC with unique capabilities to provide urgent medical support services.

“We had a message that came out, that the reserves were looking for people to volunteer for this mission,” said Cmdr. Lynn Houston, from Jacksonville, Fla. “Being a nurse in the reserve side, an opportunity to be here is kind of like the ultimate of missions.”

Houston works as a nurse manager for transplant in the outpatient center at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. Aboard Comfort, she is serving as a perioperative nurse in the operating room.

Based on the recent change to our mission to now accept COVID-19 positive patients, Comfort has reconfigured the ship’s maximum capacity from one thousand to five hundred beds. This adjustment is to ensure the hospital can separate COVID-19 positive from COVID-19 negative patients.

The ship is also equipped with four X-ray machines, CT scan unit, operating rooms, physical therapy center, pharmacy, an angiography suite and two oxygen-producing plants.

“We are equipped with the same staff and capabilities as a field hospital on shore,” said Capt. Patrick Amersbach, commanding officer of the Comfort’s Military Treatment Facility. “However, the environment aboard a ship is not the same and we have special considerations that must be accounted for when considering each patient. Still we have not let this slow us down.”

Amersbach continued saying that in just a very short time span since arriving to New York City on March 29, the medical care team aboard the ship had treated 80 patients as of April 9.

“USNS Comfort arrived in New York City ahead of schedule with the understanding that the process could take several days to establish our procedure for receiving patients aboard,” said Capt. Joseph O’Brien, mission commander, Task Force New York City. “We will continue to refine the process in order to ensure we are providing maximum support to the city, and we are taking every precaution to minimize our risk while still accomplishing the mission.”

“Everybody is putting the needs of the patient first,” said Houston. “We are working for a common goal, a common cause, and things change daily but we know in the end we are making a difference with the city and with the patients. Thirty years ago, when I went to nursing school, I never imaged I would be here supporting this mission. From a reservist prospective, it an amazing adventure. There is no difference between the active and the reservists; we have become a very integrated and seamless team helping to support this mission and our fellow Americans in New York City.”

Comfort cares for trauma, emergency and urgent care patients without regard for their COVID-19 status. Comfort is working with the Javits New York Medical Station as an integrated system to relieve the New York City medical system, in support of the U.S. Northern Command’s Defense Support of Civil Authorities as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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