The Navy’s East Coast-based hospital ship will leave Naval Station Norfolk Oct. 11 for an 11-week deployment intended to help ease the strain on medical workers across Central and South America caused by millions of Venezuelans fleeing their country under the oppressive regime of President Nicolas Maduro.
The USNS Comfort will travel between ports including Esmeraldas, Ecuador; Riohacha and Turbo, Colombia; and Puerto Castilla, Honduras, the U.S. Southern Command announced Monday, with an additional port visit to be named in Peru. The deployment comes on the heels of an August visit to South America by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who announced Comfort’s impending move as a humanitarian mission. At least a million Venezuelans have sought refuge in Columbia alone, Mattis said, calling the deployment a “very specific effort to to try help our neighbors.”
The ship’s crew will include more than 200 U.S. and partner nation military doctors, nurses, and technicians and about 60 volunteers from non-governmental organizations. The Comfort’s medical team expects to treat approximately 750 patients per day at shore-based sites and have as many as 20 surgeries per day aboard the vessel. Health ministries in each country will pick those patients to be evaluated and treated by the Comfort’s on-board surgical services and capabilities, Southern Command said.
The Comfort is operated by civilian mariners and, fully crewed, carries about 1,215 Navy medical personnel and includes a 1,000-bed medical treatment facility with 12 operating rooms. In addition to general health and medical services, the Comfort will be able to provide dental and optometry screenings and treatment, a CAT-scan unit, four X-ray machines, two oxygen-producing plants and a 5,000-unit blood bank.
The deployment will likely mean longer waits for some services at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. In a video released on the hospital’s Facebook page Monday, commanding officer Capt. Christopher Culp said the Comfort is comprised of about a quarter of the hospital’s staff. Patients can expect longer wait times for appointments for primary and some specialty care services, as well as increases in out-patient pharmacy wait times, he said.
“Our refills will increase from three to five days and during this time, prescriptions from civilian providers will be shifted to the (Tricare) network for those of you who are not primarily enrolled to us,” he said.
Culp urged patients to check the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth’s website, Facebook page or mobile application for more information about appointment availability or pharmacy wait times.
© 2018 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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