LOS ANGELES - The Navy hospital ship Mercy will not be heading to Port of Los Angeles to assist overwhelmed area hospitals anytime soon, despite worsening COVID-19 infection rates and requests from local leaders.
The USNS Mercy has been undergoing maintenance since July and will be unavailable for tasking for the next couple of months. The work is said to help the hospital ship continue operating until its planned out of commission date in 2036.
"I am not an expert, but I have to question the wisdom of dry-docking a hospital ship in the middle of a pandemic," Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn wrote on Twitter.
Hahn has been pushing for the Mercy hospital ship to return to Los Angeles, saying it would provide needed space and personnel to help hospitals during the recent surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
According to Military officials, the ship is docked in Portland for its maintenance, which is not scheduled to be completed until spring of 2021, followed by a month of sea trials and other post-maintenance testing and training.
The ship was deployed to the port at the beginning of the pandemic in anticipation of a hospital surge that never materialized. During its time in Los Angeles, only about 77 patients were treated on the ship.
Just before the new year, Hahn wrote a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom asking him to call on federal partners to dispatch the ship to the Port of Los Angeles.
"We must continue to do everything within our power to fully support our health care providers as they battle this pandemic on the front line inside our hospitals. I also ask that you call on our federal partners to bring back the USNS Mercy with accompanying medical staff to the Port of Los Angeles. Emergency departments throughout LA County are overwhelmed and cannot take in all patients in need of urgent care," Hahn wrote in the letter.
The pandemic has reached new highs with cases, hospitalizations and deaths, and health experts continue to warn that the worst is still before us due to the expected surge from the winter holidays.
Ambulances are being told not to bring patients experiencing cardiac arrest to hospitals if emergency medical technicians can’t resuscitate them in the field. Paramedics were instructed to conserve oxygen and not to bring patients to the hospital who have little chance of survival. The availability of oxygen has become a statewide issue for hospitals, particularly in hard-hit LA County.
Hahn is requesting that the Navy expedite the Mercy's maintenance and send the hospital ship back to Los Angeles. "Or at the very least find a way to send the Mercy's medical team to the @CountyofLA," Hahn wrote on Twitter.
Other local leaders have also expressed their support of Hahn's mission to get the Mercy ship back in Los Angeles, including Whittier Mayor Joe Vinatieri, Downey Mayor Claudia Marroquin-Frometa, Norwalk Mayor Jennifer Perez, and Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey.
"This situation has drastically changed from the original docking of the USNS Mercy Hospital Ship in May 2020. The need has not been any greater to assist with other medical ailments such as heart, cancer and non-COVID-19 related illnesses," Furey wrote in his letter of support to Hahn.
On Monday, state officials asked the federal government to deploy more than 500 additional medical personnel across California to assist overwhelmed hospitals.
The state's request includes 360 Department of Defense medical personnel, 135 U.S. Health and Human Services Disaster Medical Assistance Team members and 50 Federal Emergency Management Personnel, according to the Governor's Office of Emergency Services.