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USNS Mercy arrives in Los Angeles to aid local hospitals in coronavirus response

The USNS Mercy docked in the Port of Los Angeles on Friday. The ship will treat patients that have tested negative for the new coronavirus to ease the burden on LA area hospitals during the pandemic. (Jintak Han/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Jintak Han

March 27, 2020 4:02 pm

A Navy hospital ship docked in the Port of Los Angeles on Friday morning to assist hospitals in LA County stressed near their limits by the COVID-19 pandemic.

USNS Mercy left its usual home at Naval Base San Diego a day after President Donald Trump approved California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request to declare a major disaster in the state Sunday.

The Mercy, one of two hospital ships in the United States Navy, will be deployed next to the USS Iowa in the Port of Los Angeles and will assist in LA’s fight against COVID-19 for the next 30 days. Its sister ship, the USNS Comfort, will arrive in New York City on Monday after finishing refitting.

“(Newsom) is why we have today a ship that now will be the largest hospital in Los Angeles at its full capacity,” said LA Mayor Eric Garcetti at a press conference on board the Mercy. “At its capacity today, it will add a full third more available beds, and at full capacity, two-thirds more beds to the fight here at Los Angeles. … This truly is mercy on the water.”

The Mercy carries about 1,000 beds when at full capacity, but most of them are bunk beds, Newsom said. County District 4 Supervisor Janice Hahn said once the bunk beds are taken into account, the Mercy will provide about 500 immediate open beds.

The ship brings with it a full suite of medical facilities, including operating rooms, a CT scanner and a large cache of medical supplies and 800 medical personnel to use them, Hahn said.

“It’s a total floating hospital,” Hahn said. “It’s sustainable. The crew will have all their own food and water. So I think they’re well-stocked, which is also of help to the rest of Los Angeles.”

The ship will bring patients from nearby hospitals who have tested negative for the coronavirus, freeing inpatient rooms for COVID-19 patients. The Mercy will admit its first patient of this deployment as early as Saturday, said Rear Admiral John Gumbleton.

“Private ambulance companies will pick up patients that are cleared for ambulatory movement to this facility for ongoing treatment,” said Port of Los Angeles Police Chief Thomas Gazsi. “It could be from virtually anywhere in LA County, as far north as Ventura County and potentially Orange County as well, perhaps some from the Inland Empire.”

UCLA Health spokesperson Enrique Rivero said the university does not yet have a detailed plan for cooperating with the crew of the Mercy.

Hahn said even though the ship adds much-needed relief to the LA County health system, it is a temporary solution to a growing problem.

“In Los Angeles County, our hospitals are at 90% capacity,” Hahn said. “Even 500 beds will help relieve our current capacity, but it really shows that this isn’t enough. We probably will need to look at building pop-up hospitals or (mobile army surgical hospitals) to address this concern.”

After the ship moored, the LA Department of Public Health announced five new coronavirus-related deaths in the county, bringing the total to 26. The total number of people in LA County who tested positive for COVID-19 has more than tripled in six days, reaching 1,465 confirmed cases.

The spike in COVID-19 cases has put hospitals in financial distress because they have reduced elective surgeries to meet the surge. Newsom said he hopes the $2 trillion stimulus bill approved by Trump on Friday will keep hospitals open as the fight to suppress the pandemic continues.

“We believe, regardless of your status, that you have the right and we have an obligation to treat you and to take care of you,” Newsom said. “We’ll assess those costs in real-time but our focus right now is less on economics … (and more) on the health and safety of 40 million Californians.”

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Jintak Han | Senior staff photojournalist & news reporter
Jintak Han is a senior staff photojournalist and news reporter. He photographs anything that catches his eye and writes for the City & Crime beat. He previously served as the 2016-2017 Assistant Photo editor.
Jintak Han is a senior staff photojournalist and news reporter. He photographs anything that catches his eye and writes for the City & Crime beat. He previously served as the 2016-2017 Assistant Photo editor.
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