Public Health

Floating Hospital Heads For Haiti

Saturday morning, one of the U.S.'s largest trauma centers ships out to Haiti.

James Ware, commanding officer of Comfort's hospital.

James Ware, commanding officer of Comfort's hospital, said that this is one of the Comfort's biggest missions. Nadja Popovich, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Nadja Popovich, NPR

A mad dash is on at the port of Baltimore to stock the USNS Comfort hospital ship for cast-off — blood, medicines, special equipment, staff and all. (So it's no surprise the first thing I was told when walking onto the pier was "watch out for the forklifts," shortly after which I was nearly run-over by one.)

The floating Naval hospital will provide desperately needed medical care to the victims of last Monday's 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

The plan is to "steam pretty much directly there," said James Ware, commanding officer of Comfort's hospital. He is confident Comfort will be ready by tomorrow morning. "We will have a full round, as they say," meaning medical supplies, personnel, food, and gas for a 45-day mission.

With 550 hospital staff on board and equipped with surgical facilities, a dental suite, optometry lab, Comfort can treat hundreds of patients a day. So Comfort's power to help disaster victims is impressive, but the question is, what will the staff find by the time they arrive?

Workers loading the USNS Comfort. i i

Workers load the USNS Comfort, in preparation for tomorrow's trek. Nadja Popovich, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Nadja Popovich, NPR
Workers loading the USNS Comfort.

Workers load the USNS Comfort, in preparation for tomorrow's trek.

Nadja Popovich, NPR

"I don't know. We're going to expect the worst," said Lt. Commander Thomas Oliver, head of Comfort's main operating room.

It's going to take the ship roughly six days to get to Haiti — a week and a half since the quake hit.

By then, many Haitians will have already died from initial injuries. But it does bring with it critically needed orthopedic and neurological equipment to treat the severest of injuries. And it may arrive in time to help the tens of thousands suffering from the quake's "health aftershocks," such as malnutrition and diseases created by water contamination.

Shots will check back in with the Comfort once it docks and has a better scope of the challenges it faces. Stay tuned for updates.

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