The Statue of Liberty stands in New York Harbor as a beacon of hope; a fitting backdrop for the Mercy-class hospital ship USNS Comfort, which steamed this gray April morning to bring relief to a medical system quickly becoming overwhelmed with patients dealing with the Coronavirus. A convoy of ships from the FDNY, NYPD, and Coast Guard guided the nearly 900-foot vessel to Pier 90 off of Manhattan’s western coast.
As its name implies, the massive ship is a floating hospital that’s completely self-contained and able to support patients for months on end. According to the US Navy, the ship contains 12 fully-equipped operating rooms, a 1,000-bed hospital facility, radiological services, a lab, pharmacy, optometry lab, a Cat-scan, and two oxygen-producing plants. The crew includes roughly 1,200 sailors and 72 civilian medical personnel.
There are two Mercy-class hospital ships, including the USNS Mercy, which is currently aiding hospitals on the West Coast. Both were originally built as San Clemente-class super tankers that were converted in the 1980s to hospital ships. Both are propelled by a geared steam turbine with two boilers and a single shaft, producing 24,500 horsepower. That’s enough power to propel the ship at a speed of 17.5 knots (or 20.13 mph).
Though the USNS Comfort was brought to New York to assist with the increased stress on hospitals in the New York area, the ship is not intended to help patients with Coronavirus. Given the close quarters, a ship is not necessarily an ideal place to contain a virus. Instead, the ship is meant to take patients with other issues and serve them in place of the regular hospitals. Additionally, patients who have needs unrelated to Coronavirus will be treated at the Javits Center nearby, which was supposed to be hosting the New York Auto Show. That facility was converted quickly by the National Guard and will be maintained by members of the US Army’s hospital units from Fort Campbell in Kentucky and Fort Hood in Texas.
This floating hospital has done most of its service in other countries impacted by natural disasters, but is a welcome sight to all New Yorkers.