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Patients Return to Haiti After Comfort Care

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS100208-06
Release Date: 2/8/2010 1:07:00 PM

By Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew Jackson, USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) Public Affairs

USNS COMFORT, At Anchor (NNS) -- As of Feb. 2, more than 350 medical patients have been transferred or discharged from the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) following treatment for critical injuries sustained during a 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

The Jan. 12 earthquake was the most devastating natural disaster to strike the Caribbean nation in more than 200 years, and the international community is working with the people of Haiti to remove the rubble and begin the rebuilding process. Part of this process involves balancing the necessity for patients to get quality after care with the capability to receive new patients requiring care.

"It's important to maintain discharge flow to be able to continue providing adequate medical care to the people of Haiti," said Chief Hospital Corpsman (FMF) Luis G. Bravo, a patient discharge administrator from Los Angeles. "Any delay in discharging patients quickly fills up the ship's capacity to continue taking in new patients in critical need of services provided by the Comfort."

Outbound patients requiring further care are flown to several locations locally such as St. Damien Hospital De Chateau-Blond. Local medical professionals in these locations work with foreign nongovernmental organization (NGO) volunteers to provide follow-up care.

"Our present mission is to serve as a base for post-operative convalescent patients of the Comfort," said Greg Murphy, a neurosurgeon from Greenville, N.C., working at St. Damien. "Patients arriving here will need physical therapy, wound changes and also psychological support for the traumatic experiences they have been through."

Bravo explained the importance of consistent medical care.

"Continuous medical care aboard Comfort or any other medical facility around Port-au-Prince is very important to the recovery process of Haitian citizens," said Bravo. "These facilities are taking Comfort patients and providing the necessary follow-up care."

Comfort medical staff works closely with shore-based joint military personnel, civil authorities and NGOs to ensure continuity of post-operation patient care for Haitians after they depart the hospital ship.

"It is important to coordinate the transition of care for patients to ensure continuity of care," said Bravo. "Many of the cases will require long term care that needs to be coordinated in order for the patient to recover and benefit."

Many of the foreign volunteers came to Haiti expecting the unexpected, so Murphy was not surprised by what he faced once he began treating patients.

"I am here with a staff of 15 people to support the medical relief mission at St. Damien Hospital for the people of Haiti," said Murphy. "This hospital was originally set up to be a pediatric treatment center, but it has become a top level trauma center that is capable of receiving critical or post-operative patients of all ages."

Through Operation Unified Response the United States has demonstrated its long term commitment to friendship with Haiti.

"Comfort's presence in Haiti has been successful," said Bravo. "Comfort was in Haiti in 2009 during Continuing Promise providing humanitarian assistance, and we are here in 2010 continuing that promise of care and support for the people of Haiti in their time of need."

Many of the patients treated in Haiti have suffered from orthopedic injuries resulting from falling debris during the earthquake. Comfort medical planners have flexed to meet this need by enlisting the aid of 10 orthopedic surgeons from Orthopaedic Trauma Association, in addition to working on the ground to build up the necessary infrastructure in Haiti to provide after care to these patients.

Homeported in Baltimore, Md., the Military Sealift Command hospital ship Comfort provides acute, mobile and afloat surgical and light care.

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