USNS Mercy mission aims to ease strain on Los Angeles-area hospitals, commander says

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Capt. John Rotruck, the commander of the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy, told “Fox & Friends Weekend” on Sunday that the hospital ship, stocked with supplies and medical personnel to aid in the coronavirus pandemic response, acts “as a relief valve to local hospitals” in the Los Angeles area.

California has seen over 5,600 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 120 deaths, according to data compiled by Fox News. The state has been ranked third in the country for the most coronavirus cases after New York and New Jersey.

President Trump deployed the 1,000-bed hospital ship from the Naval Station in San Diego and it arrived in Los Angeles this past Friday to “serve as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients” currently hospitalized on land.

“The Mercy is here to take care of non-COVID infected patients so that we can bring those patients aboard and act as a relief valve to local hospitals,” Rotruck said aboard the ship.

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“Five days after the activation order, we set sail,” he said, adding that once the ship arrived in Los Angeles, “we were ready to see patients,” especially because crew members did “a lot of team training” while they were en route to LA.

Mercy departed San Diego on Monday with more than 800 Navy medical personnel and support staff. It also carried more than 70 civil service mariners operating and navigating the ship, helping with repairs and loading and off-loading mission cargo, Fox 11 reported.

The hospital ship will offer general surgeries, critical care and ward care for adults, the station reported. The goal has been to allow local health professionals to focus on treating COVID-19 patients and for hospitals there to use their intensive-care units and ventilators for those patients, the station added.

When asked about the morale, Rotruck said, “I sense tremendous enthusiasm amongst our entire crew.”

“This is an exciting mission for us,” he continued. “It’s a rare chance that we actually get to help our fellow Americans on American soil. That is definitely a demonstration of the power of Navy medicine on behalf of our country.”

On Saturday, Trump was on hand in Norfolk, Va., to bid bon voyage to another U.S. Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, bound for New York City.

Before saluting the “fully loaded” ship, Trump praised the 1,200 medical personnel aboard as the military's “greatest weapon” in the pandemic response. The ship has 12 operating rooms, a medical laboratory, a pharmacy, a helicopter deck and more, Trump said.

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As for the Mercy, Rotruck said every crew member was screened before boarding the ship -- and patients who will be treated on the ship also would go through a screening process “to ensure that they do not have COVID.”

Fox News' Travis Fedschun and Marisa Schultz contributed to this report.