Navy hospital ship in New York changes patient screening process

Navy hospital ship in New York changes patient screening process
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A U.S. Navy hospital ship docked in New York is loosening its screening process for patients to get on board, the Pentagon said Friday, after criticism that the ship has been too slow in admitting patients.

Additionally, the Pentagon confirmed that three field hospitals in New York City, New Orleans and Dallas will now treat coronavirus patients, as announced by Vice President Pence at a White House briefing Thursday evening.

“This assistance will further unburden the local hospital and ambulance systems in these areas, allowing them to focus on the more serious COVID-19 cases,” the Pentagon said in a statement Friday. “We will immediately implement this action and work with local officials in each area on the details of patient arrival.”

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The USNS Comfort arrived in New York Harbor on Monday and was ready to accept patients the next day. The ship and its sister ship, the USNS Mercy, were dispatched to New York and Los Angeles, respectively, to treat non-coronavirus patients so local hospitals can free up beds for those suffering from COVID-19.

As of Thursday, the Comfort’s 1,000-bed hospital had 20 patients. Hospital leaders in New York complained to The New York Times about the military’s bureaucracy for admitting patients, with one official telling the newspaper “it’s a joke.”

In an effort to ensure coronavirus isn’t introduced on the ship, the Comfort was only accepting patients who had gone through an evaluation at a local hospital, including testing negative for the virus.

Now, the Pentagon said Friday, patients will be screened pier-side “in an effort to reduce the backlog at some of the nearby New York hospitals.”

“The screening effort for the USNS Comfort will no longer require a negative test, but each patient will still be screened by temperature and a short questionnaire,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, popup hospitals built by the Army Corps of Engineers at convention centers in New York, New Orleans and Dallas will now treat coronavirus patients, the Pentagon said.

The sites will treat patients, who must first be screened at a local hospital, in convalescent care or who otherwise need less intensive medical care, the statement said.

“We understand that introducing COVID-19 positive patients into the [Federal Medical Station] environments elevates the risk of transmission to other patients and our medical providers,” the statement said. “This decision was risk-informed and made to ensure that DoD can continue to provide these local communities the type of medical care they most need.”