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USNS Mercy no longer taking patients at the direction of FEMA

The hospital ship USNS Mercy along with it's staff of 800 Navy medical personnel and support staff, along with more than 70 civil service mariners departed Naval Base San Diego on Monday, March 23, 2020. The Mercy will serve as a referral hospital for non COVID-19 patients. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/TNS)

The USNS Mercy, sent to the Port of Los Angeles to take the burden off Los Angeles-area hospitals expected to be overwhelmed treating coronavirus patients, is winding down its mission.

The ship released its last patient on Tuesday, May 5.

“At the direction of FEMA, Mercy is no longer receiving patients,” Lt. Andrew Bertucci, a spokesman aboard the floating hospital ship, said on Thursday, May 7.

Seventy-seven patients received care ranging from essential medical and surgical treatments to critical care and trauma. The ship did not take patients with the coronavirus.

About 40 of the ship’s crew – doctors, nurses and corpsmen – are still caring for patients at the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa.

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The Fairview campus – prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and opened April 20 by order of Gov. Gavin Newsom – is being used to isolate and treat patients with COVID-19, the disease that stems from the virus. The patients don’t need the acute care of a hospital.

During the Mercy’s mission, which began when it arrived in port on March 27, nine of the crew aboard tested positive for the coronavirus and went to military hospitals for care. Another 120 others who were exposed to those sailors also left the ship and self-monitored for symptoms.

To avoid a disastrous spread of the virus, the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. John Rotruck ordered the ship sanitized and crew members started wearing face coverings and spreading out during meal times. The vessel also closed down its barbershops and gyms.

Rotruck also moved most of the crew off the ship to nearby hotels and brought them back for work in shifts.

While the surge that was feared could overwhelm Los Angeles-area hospitals hasn’t been what initial forecast models predicted, Rotruck said he and his team were ready to care for at least 500 patients. The deployment has helped the Navy crew, most of whom came from the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, keep ready for their next mission.

The 1,000-bed hospital ship remains docked at the cruise terminal, near Harbor Boulevard and Swinford Street, just south of the Vincent Thomas Bridge.

“We have not been tasked to depart and remain on station to provide support to FEMA, state and local authorities,” Bertucci said.

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© 2020 The Orange County Register