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Capt. Patrick Amersbach, commanding officer of the USNS Comfort, describes the ship’s mission to New York as the city attempts to control the coronavirus outbreak.
Warrior Maven: I understand the USNS Comfort is receiving additional health care experts to help COVID-19 patients recover. How is that going?
Amersbach: “We received over 40 additional physicians and nurses aboard the ICU. We came into New York to treat non- COVID patients and we are transitioning from that. We have been able to discharge 60 patients, including patients who have recovered from COVID-19.”
Warrior: How has the transition and COVID-19 treatment been progressing?
Amersbach: “We have over 30 patients in the ICU, some suffering from acute respiratory distress and multi-system organ failure. Our ICU is capable of treating 80 patients overall. We are doing our best to maximize their care. We have 19 patients on ventilators. We have been able to take some of those critical patients who are intubated… until they become extubated (breathing tubes removed). Patients are getting better.”
Warrior: I understand COVID-19 patients have recovered onboard the USNS Comfort… and been discharged?
Amersbach: “We have been able to discharge 60, some of which are COVID-19 patients. We’ve been able to extubate (remove breathing tube) them.”
Warrior: How is your crew holding up? Do they have enough equipment?
Amersbach: “As our crew has transitioned from COVID negative to COVID positive, they have done a great job adhering to CDC guidelines and they are wearing PPE to minimize transmission.”
Warrior: How is the patient arrival flow looking? Increasing or decreasing?
Amersbach: “We continue to admit patients from the local hospital system. The hospital transfer is coordinated through the Javits Center. We don’t have any shortages of equipment.”
Warrior: Is the USNS Comfort treating the most high-risk patients?
Amersbach: “The complexity of patients is much greater than our initial mission, as we are bringing ICU-level care to the equation. The ship was designed for major combat operations, so we are not taking pediatrics or OB patients (pregnant). The majority of our patients are over 60.”
Warrior: How is the transport of critical patients going… from NYC hospitals to the USNS Comfort?
Amersbach: “We are working closely with the Javits Center. We have liaison officers that support our mission who are in communication with local hospitals. This is a very critical process. We do handoffs from doctor to doctor done which are systematically done through the local EMS system. Some patients are on a mobile ventilator.”
Warrior: What does this mission mean to you and the crew? To have the U.S. military helping to save civilian lives?
Amersbach: “I’m very proud to help this mission. I have been in the military for a long time supporting our nation around the world. There is nothing more gratifying than supporting people of the U.S. Our crew is working around the clock and understands the gravity of the situation. We are always ready to adapt, as that is the mission of the military.”