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American Forces Press Service

Arrival of Comfort Broadens Military's Mission in Haiti

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 2010 – The arrival of the USNS Comfort, a military hospital ship, adds some 600 medical personnel to the humanitarian effort in Haiti, roughly tripling the number of American medical workers tending to the devastated country.

Navy helicopters transported severely injured Haitians to the Comfort this morning to receive treatment, and additional injured and ailing persons ashore were triaged before being transferred to the floating hospital, officials said.

“The Comfort brings a tremendous capability to the people of Haiti,” Capt. Andy Stevermer, commander of the incident response coordination team for the Department of Health and Human Services, told reporters today. “Already, patients are being triaged and prepared to board the Comfort via helicopter and receive the treatment they need.”

Haiti has been the focus of an expansive relief effort in the wake of a 7-magnitude earthquake Jan. 12, which officials believe has killed between 100,000 to 200,000 people and which the Red Cross estimates has affected some 3 million people.

To date, 270 U.S. medical personnel on the ground have treated more than 5,100 people in Haiti since Jan. 17, Stevermer said. As a testament to their agility, one U.S. disaster medical assistance team and a surgical team have provided treatment the past three days on a soccer field near the capital of Port-au-Prince.

“The most common medical problems which are being treated are traumatic injuries from the earthquake and exacerbations of chronic disease cause by lack of access to care,” Stevermer added, describing the human toll of the disaster.

The Comfort, which arrived near the Haitian capital this morning after departing Baltimore last week, brings with it 1,000 desperately needed hospital beds. An additional U.S. disaster medical assistance team is working a staging facility at a pier near the capital, triaging patients who are then flown to the Comfort for treatment.

The Comfort crew will work with nongovernmental organizations, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and the soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division who already are in Haiti providing assistance. The crew also expects to work with medical professionals from many other countries, including sizeable contingents from Mexico, Brazil and Canada.

One military official speaking on background characterized the early medical support delivered on the ship as “emergency treatment.”

“We had patients taken that were critical, that were not able to be helped there on the ground, flown out to our military vessels to have emergency medical care on those vessels,” the official said at the Pentagon today.

The Defense Department has pledged up to $20 million in emergency relief funds for Haiti, and sprang troops into action following the quake, with the U.S. military footprint there expected to grow to some 10,000.

Another senior military official today said the department has “earmarked” an Expeditionary Medical Support -- a rapid response military medical unit and its corresponding equipment -- after a request came for additional medical supplies. The Comfort is providing additional capacity in the meantime.

“We were asked for some additional augmentation of some specialties,” the official said, “and the EMEDS team is earmarked, and, of course, the Comfort, to give them additional capability.”

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