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As the hospital ship USNS Comfort continues its race south to Haiti, sailors aboard the vessel race to get the facilities ready for the expected patients.
The Comfort, bulling its way through stormy seas, will receive another 350 medical personnel and support staff when it reaches the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, Navy Capt. (Dr.) Jim Ware, commander of the medical treatment facility. This, he explained, will allow the staff to double the number of operating rooms.
The staff wants 11 operating rooms ready upon arrival in Port-au-Prince, expected to be Jan. 21. “We will set up all 11, but only have the people to man eight until the other personnel come in,” said Navy Cmdr. (Dr.) Tim Donahue, director of surgical services.
The commander said medical personnel have been busy scrubbing the rooms and readying supplies. Medics exercised casualty-receiving procedures this afternoon, and will continue to do so.
The Comfort set sail less than four days after receiving orders. Getting medical supplies for the mission and ensuring that the systems on the ship worked continued right up to yesterday’s departure from Baltimore.
The ship was brought to life from “a cold start,” Ware said. Contractors were aboard working on generators up to the morning of departure. Once the ship was underway, plumbers still were turning on the water in berthing spaces, and information technology specialists were working to bring the Internet up as the ship headed out of the Chesapeake Bay.
The medical effort is aided by the fact that the Comfort was in Haiti on a humanitarian services exercise in April. “We know the area, we know many of the people in the Ministry of Health, and that helps,” Donahue said. In addition, many medical specialists aided in the tsunami relief operation and for the relief effort for Hurricane Katrina.
Another help is that some aboard the Comfort are from Haiti. Petty Officer 3rd Class Yves Henry is a corpsman at Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia who was called up to help man the ship. “I’m proud to be in the Navy, and proud to be able to go and help,” he said.
Henry is worried about family and friends in Port-au-Prince. “I heard that my grandmother is all right,” Henry said. “I’m anxious to get there and help.”
Henry may be a translator for the medical department. Announcements went out aboard the ship for anyone who speaks Creole or Haitian French. Plans are to hire about 100 translators to assist in the medical effort.
The medical staff is preparing for crush injuries and burn cases, Donahue said. “But we have specialists and equipment here to handle just about anything,” he said.