The USNS Comfort, the Navy hospital ship that docked in New York Harbor this week as part of a greater effort to relieve hospitals overrun by an influx of coronavirus patients, only had 20 patients aboard as of Thursday evening.
The ship, equipped with 1,000 beds, 12 operating rooms, and 1,200 personnel, has not come close to reaching its capacity, taking on just 20 patients as of Thursday, a Navy spokeswoman confirmed Thursday evening.
“The process continues and we are honestly looking forward to seeing a significant increase in patients being transferred to the Comfort,” Capt. Patrick Amersbach said.
The ship was never intended to take patients with coronavirus. Rather, it is expected to lessen the load on local hospitals battling the virus by taking patients with other illnesses or traumas. However, there are reportedly 49 medical conditions “that would exclude a patient from admittance to the ship.”
Some say the bureaucratic tape is preventing the ship from accepting more patients. Officials, for instance, cannot transfer a patient to the vessel until he or she is thoroughly examined at a local hospital, including undergoing a test for the virus, and cleared.
“Ambulances cannot take patients directly to the Comfort; they must first deliver patients to a city hospital for a lengthy evaluation — including a test for the virus — and then pick them up again for transport to the ship,” according to the Times.
Only three patients had been transported to the Comfort as of Thursday morning — a number that only increased to 20 by the end of the day.
“We’re bringing them on as fast as we can bring them on,” Navy spokeswoman Elizabeth Baker said.
But hospital officials are growing frustrated.
“If I’m blunt about it, it’s a joke,” Michael Dowling, the head of New York’s Northwell Health said, according to the Times. “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 said hospitals have been overwhelmed, resorting to makeshift rooms in lobbies, to accommodate the influx of patients.
“His facilities now house 2,800 so-called Covid patients, up from 100 on March 20, he said. About 25 percent of those are in serious conditions in intensive care units,” per the Times.
While the Comfort remains ready to take a load off the hospitals, the stark reality remains. There simply are not as many non-coronavirus patients, partially due to the city’s stay at home orders.
“Because most New Yorkers have isolated themselves in their homes, there are fewer injuries from car accidents, gun shots and construction accidents that would require an emergency room visit,” the Times noted.
That considered, Dowling believes the Comfort should accept coronavirus patients.
“It’s pretty ridiculous,” Dowling said. “If you’re not going to help us with the people we need help with, what’s the purpose?”
Notably, the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, which has 2,500 beds, will now accept coronavirus patients.
While that is not currently the case for the Comfort, Amersbach, the ship’s commanding officer, said they will “do what we can to meet that mission” if it does, indeed, shift.
New York City had over 51,800 confirmed cases of the virus as of Friday morning.