On June 14th, 2019 the USNS COMFORT (T-AH 20) set sail for a five-month mission to South America, Central America, and the Caribbean to provide medical assistance in response to the humanitarian crisis created by the man-made humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. As part of 2019 Operation Enduring Promise, COMFORT has visited Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, Peru, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago. This is COMFORT’s seventh deployment to the SOUTHCOM AOR in support of enhanced partnership with our regional neighbors and partner nations.
The COMFORT is a unique ship, originally named the SS Rose City, a San Clemente class oil tanker that was converted into a hospital ship in 1987. She is a non-commissioned ship (USNS) owned by the U.S. Navy but operated by her civilian crew from the Military Sealift Command (MSC). She is a non-combatant vessel. During the current mission, the Medical Training Facility (MTF) is primarily manned with navy medical personnel , and augmented by the US Army, US Air Force, US Coast Guard, Non-Governmental Organizations, and partner nation participants, including military partners from Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, Chile, Dominican Republic, and Brazil. She has up to a 1000 bed capacity and is equipped with 4 Intensive Care Units (ICU), 12 Operating Rooms, 50 bay Casualty Receiving Room, Radiology (includes CT scan, X-Ray, and ultrasound), Laboratory, Pathology, Pharmacy, Dental, Optometry and Physical Therapy. Additionally, her flight deck supports 2 SH-60 Seahawk Helicopters responsible for personnel, casualty, and equipment transport. Altogether COMFORT is capable of embarking over 1000 military and civilian personnel in support of medical operations.
Eight Navy Internal Medicine physicians were called up to serve on the USNS COMFORT Operation Enduring Promise 2019. On mission, Internists provide high value medical care afloat and at the medical engagement sites ashore, as well as sub-specialty consultation when required. We work side by side with our family medicine physicians, pediatricians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners as a cohesive team to successfully provide care to over 500 patients per day at each medical site, routinely with 2 medical sites operating simultaneously in each host nation mission stop. Given the complexity of diagnosis and treatment in the internal medicine patient population, partnership and coordination of care with the host nation’s Ministry of Health is essential and lends to improved outcomes and higher patient satisfaction. Afloat, Internists serve as the admitting medical officer and as a medical consultant for our family medicine and surgical colleagues. While our primary role is to provide high value field medical care, we are honored to frequently serve as ambassadors of good will to the citizens of our partner nations, often representing the first American service member our patients have encountered. These roles are equally valuable and serve to communicate our continued dedication, partnership, and commitment to the evolving friendships we share with our South America, Central America and Caribbean neighbors.
-CDR Tod Morris: A Hematologist/Oncologist from NMCP and Director of Medical Services for the USNS COMFORT MTF. He is leading the directorate for his second mission after the successful completion of Operation Enduring Promise 2018. He is responsible for over 130 personnel across services, non-government agencies and partner nation providers. He leads medical site planning and medical care provided at all 24 medical sites throughout the mission.
-LCDR Peter McIntyre: An Endocrinologist from NMCP. He serves as the Associate Director of Medical Services and one of eight medical site OICs. This is his second mission serving in DMS.
-CDR Tyler Warkentien: An Infectious Disease Physician from NMCP serving as a medical site OIC, Head of the Public Health Department, and the Infection Control Committee Chairman.
- CDR Travis Harrell: A Cardiology Physician from NMCSD and served as the Cardiac Arrest/Code Committee Chairman.
-LCDR Daniel Dean: A Nephrologist from NMCP served as medical site OIC and as Military Operations Center Physician. This is his third mission aboard the USNS COMFORT.
-LCDR Evan Butlin: A Pulmonary/Critical Care Physician from NMCP and the Co-Director of the ICU. He also serves as the Ethics Committee Chairman and as a member of the cardiac arrest/code committee.
-LCDR Karen Zeman: A Hematologist/Oncologist from WRNMMC and serves as the USNS Comfort Risk Manager and Co-leads Academics for our Medical Translators.
-Dr. Deborah Falch: A Non-Government Organization Volunteer Internist from San Francisco serving her second consecutive mission on the USNS Comfort and her third Navy Medical Mission.