Samaritan's Purse opens coronavirus field hospital in Italy, receives first patients

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A U.S.-based evangelical group has opened a coronavirus field hospital in Italy and received its first patients Saturday to help the country's strained health system and its medical workers.

Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization, built the mobile unit in fewer than 36 hours in the parking lot of Cremona Hospital in northern Italy’s hard-hit Lombardy region, the group said on its website. Staff members worked with volunteers and soldiers from the Italian Air Force to set up the eight-tent medical facility.

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The field hospital is operating as a specialized respiratory care unit for COVID-19 patients. It is equipped with eight ICU beds and ventilators, 20 general care beds, a lab and a pharmacy.

Samaritan's Purse received their first intensive care patients suffering from the COVID-19 virus at their field hospital set up in the parking lot of Cremona Hospital in Lombardy, Italy, on Saturday.

Samaritan's Purse received their first intensive care patients suffering from the COVID-19 virus at their field hospital set up in the parking lot of Cremona Hospital in Lombardy, Italy, on Saturday. (Samaritan's Purse)

The group has assembled a team of nearly 70 doctors, nurses, biomedical and lab technicians, electricians, and water, sanitation and hygiene specialists to provide assistance.

“Everyone has been working around the clock, getting things done, filling in wherever they can,” said Kelly Suter, medical director of the group’s COVID-19 response in Italy. “We’re all motivated by a desire to love like Jesus loves, to be His hands and feet and to be the miracle in darkness.”

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The unit is meant to help the overwhelmed Cremona Hospital, which the group says was forced to stop most other medical services, excluding maternity and pediatrics, to respond to the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 patients.

None of the Cremona Hospital’s critical patients have survived, the group said, adding the hospital, like many others around the world, is facing a shortage of ventilators and medical staff.

Lombardy Minister of Health Giulio Gallera, pictured left, and Cremona Mayor Gianluca Glamiberti, center, touring one of the eight tents that make up the medical facility.

Lombardy Minister of Health Giulio Gallera, pictured left, and Cremona Mayor Gianluca Glamiberti, center, touring one of the eight tents that make up the medical facility. (Samaritan's Purse)

The Lombardy region accounts for more than 60 percent of Italy's surging death toll, which stands at 4,825 as of Sunday. A day earlier the country reported its largest single-day death toll of 793. The virus has so far sickened more than 53,000 people throughout Italy.

“Lombardy is leaving a dark period. You are a bright light — the first bright light in our dark sky,” said Giulio Gallera, the minister of health for the Lombardy region, of the group and their work.

Samaritan’s Purse was formed in 1970 under Bob Pierce to provide aid around the world after earthquakes and during armed conflicts and medical crises. After Pierce’s death from leukemia in 1978, Franklin Graham, the son of the late Billy Graham, has led the group as president and chairman.

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The global pandemic has sickened at least 311,000 worldwide, killing 13,407 as of March 22.