Navy sends understaffed hospital ship to ravaged Gulf Coast

A Navy hospital ship set to deploy for the Gulf Coast will have a limited medical crew that is capable of staffing only 250 of the ship’s 1,000 hospital beds, despite the overwhelming need for medical services in the areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The Military Sealift Command said the USNS Comfort hospital ship, which has 12 operating rooms, will sail to the Gulf Coast Saturday with a medical staff of 270 military empoyees. That is roughly half the medical staff that embarked on the USNS Mercy hospital ship this winter when it performed tsunami humanitarian relief operations offshore in Indonesia.

The Mercy, which deployed with a military medical and support staff of 500 and another 200 medical volunteer from Project Hope, used the ship’s full 1,000 bed capacity.

The Navy has not been able to explain why the Comfort has been staffed at a lower level than the Mercy, despite calls to the Office of the Chief of Naval Information, the Military Sealift Command and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., whose personnel serve as the Comfort’s medical staff.

The Comfort, like the Mercy, is fully equipped with the Defense Department’s standard electronic medical record system, the Composite Health Care System and digital radiography systems, which can transmit images for remote reading via onboard high-speed satellite links.

The Mercy operated offshore Indonesia with an IT staff of 36, but Federal Computer Week has not been able to determine the size of the IT staff on the Comfort.

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