Dicey Situation for Haiti Medical Aid

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 2:07 pm

The USS Bataan arrived in Port-au-Prince harbor yesterday and by 9 a.m., the Marines on board went ashore to prep the beach for Bataan’s mission to render aid and get supplies ashore. The medical ship Comfort is still at least several hours away from Haiti. And judging from a conference call with bloggers held by Bataan’s senior medical staff, Comfort can’t arrive fast enough.

Until Comfort arrives, Bataan offers the most medical assets the U.S. military has to offer. It has a fleet surgical team, four operating rooms, 13 available intensive care beds and 38 available ward beds. Another 87 medical personnel are supposed to link up with Bataan later today, according to Lt. Commander Seon Jones, the ship’s chief surgeon. What it doesn’t have right now are any Haitian patients. Right now, the ship’s “top priority” is to “establish a forward presence on the beach” to begin dispersing humanitarian aid, according to Cmdr. Melanie Merrick, Bataan’s senior medical officer.

It sounded from Merrick’s description like Bataan has the burden of medical expectations simply because it was able to get from its port in Norfolk, Va., to Port-au-Prince in 36 hours with a hastily enlarged medical staff to deal with the crisis. That’s ahead of Comfort, but Bataan does not have “what Comfort can do,” said Cmdr. William Wallace, the leader of the Bataan surgical team. It’s simply “the biggest thing to enter the area” from a medical perspective. Wallace added that “we are expecting to receive patients aboard Bataan.”

But as of now, Bataan is still getting its relief assets ashore. According to a multiagency briefing call about Haiti that Josh Rogin was on, the Department of Health and Human Services has “265 people on the ground, including doctors, nurses, and paramedics.” Israel and Argentina have both opened field hospitals in Haiti. Comfort, with its 1,000 beds, 5,00o units of blood and other major surgical assets, is still on its way.

“We realize medical maybe did not hit the beach running in sense that people expect,” Merrick said, “but we have a lot of assets” to contribute to the relief effort.

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