The USNS Comfort docked in NYC on Monday to begin treating patients in the city with ailments unrelated to the novel coronavirus. With at least 52,948 COVID-19 cases confirmed and 1,562 deaths reported in the city alone, area hospitals have become overwhelmed with patients, and the US Navy hospital ship is falling short of expectations, according to Michael Dowling, the head of Northwell Health - New York’s largest hospital system.
“If I’m blunt about it, it’s a joke,” Dowling told the New York Times. “Everyone can say, ‘Thank you for putting up these wonderful places and opening up these cavernous halls.’ But we’re in a crisis here, we’re in a battlefield.”
The outlet reported that despite having an estimated 1,000 beds and more than 1,100 personnel aboard the ship, only 20 patients have been transferred to the Comfort. The USNS Mercy, the Navy ship deployed on a similar mission in Los Angeles, California, had only seen a total of 15 patients as of Thursday.
Dowling explained that due to New Yorkers self-isolating, there are fewer accidents and ailments within the city outside of novel coronavirus cases. On top of that, the Comfort provided hospitals with a list of 49 medical conditions that would make someone ineligible for transfer. Dowling told the Times that the Navy should reconsider its guidelines and start admitting COVID-19 patients if it wants to make an impact on NYC hospitals.
“It’s pretty ridiculous,” he said. “If you’re not going to help us with the people we need help with, what’s the purpose?”
Elizabeth Baker, a spokeswoman for the Navy, told the outlet on Friday that personnel from the Comfort would widen its scope and begin screening patients for the novel coronavirus by administering questionnaires and taking their temperatures on site.
There has been no official word on whether the hospital ship will actually begin treating patients infected with the virus. However, Capt. Patrick Amersbach, head of the Comfort’s medical personnel, confidently told the Times, “If our mission shifts, we do what we can to meet that mission.”