• The 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort is docked in New York
  • At present, only 20 patients have been transferred on board
  • Navy has strict rules on who can be admitted aboard the hospital ship

When USNS Comfort sailed into the New York Harbor on Monday, expectations run high, particularly among hospital doctors and personnel. Throngs of New Yorkers rushed to Manhattan’s west side to see a symbol of hope in all its glory dock at Pier 90 in Manhattan. Today, the huge white vessel remains almost empty, with only 20 patients being accommodated in a floating hospital that can handle 1,000 patients.

coronavirus patients not allowed to board usns comfort
coronavirus patients not allowed to board usns comfort David Mark - Pixabay

Intended To Bring Relief

The Comfort is supposed to relieve the pressure on New York hospitals by taking in patients with non-coronavirus ailments. This will help hospital officials and personnel in New York City to focus most of their attention to COVID-19 patients.

President Trump himself traveled to Norfolk, Virginia, to personally give the ship an official send-off as it sailed for New York. The President, at that time, said that the Navy’s hospital would play a crucial role in the fight against the deadly pandemic. As the ship entered the city’s harbor on Monday, it was considered among the few hopeful moments in a city being consumed with despair.

Far From Reality

On Thursday, the expectations seem far from reality as the enormous white vessel remained mostly empty, with its 1,200 crew members mostly idle. The situation has caused a great deal of frustration from local hospital executives, prompting one of them to exclaim, “It’s a joke.”

Reports indicated that only 20 patients had been accommodated by the ship. This is despite the fact that hospitals in New York right now have been struggling to find space for thousands of COVID-19 patients. It is the same story in Los Angeles where the USNS Mercy, another Navy hospital ship, has only 15 patients onboard.

Bureaucratic Red Tape

According to reports, a host of bureaucratic hurdles and military protocols is preventing the Comfort from receiving many patients. Aside from its stringent rules about not letting COVID-19 patients come on board, the Navy also refuses to treat several other medical conditions. Navy guidelines provided to New York hospitals include a list of 49 other medical problems that would disqualify a patient from being admitted to the ship.

The Navy also requires that patients must first be taken by an ambulance to a city hospital for evaluation, which included being tested for COVID-19. After which, if they qualify, patients are then going to be picked up again and transported to the ship.

A Revelation

During a morning briefing that took place on Thursday, officials reveal only three patients have been transferred to the Navy hospital ship. After the New York Times published a report showing the dismal number, a Navy spokeswoman, Elizabeth Baker, said that number has increased to 20 late in the day.

She also said that the Navy is doing all it can to bring patients aboard in a quick manner. Despite all these assurances, however, hospital officials feel they are incurring a lot of delays and say they are getting exasperated. According to Michael Dowling, “Everyone can say, ‘Thank you for putting up these wonderful places and opening up these cavernous halls.’ But we’re in a crisis here, we’re in a battlefield.” Dowling is the head of Northwell Health, the largest hospital system in New York.

As per Mr. Dowling, they had to retrofit any unused space, which includes their conference rooms and lobbies, then turn them into usable hospital wards. His hospital currently takes care of 2,800 coronavirus patients, with 25% of them in serious conditions in ICU. Mr. Dowling's hospital is just one among the many New York hospitals, which are already overwhelmed by the number of patients.