NEW YORK (NNS) -- Pharmacists from the U.S. Army Reserve joined the medical team aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) nearly doubling the pharmaceutical support available to the people of New York City and local health officials in response to the nation’s COVID-19 outbreak, April 13.
Comfort is taking patients, regardless of their COVID status, in an effort to relieve pressure from hospitals that are near capacity.
The pharmacists aboard the ship, now five in number, ensure that the Comfort’s medical staff is able to administer lifesaving medications to its patients and crew.
“During previous missions we have had six or more pharmacists onboard and the mission was much more limited in scope, treating more routine issues,” said U.S. Navy Reserve Lt. Diana Cowell, a pharmacist on board Comfort, from Operational Health Support Unit, Pensacola, Fla. “Our new Army teammates both have acute care experience; they have dealt with ICU populations before. We’ll be able to enhance patient care we are providing to our patients.”
U. S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. John Falzone works at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and is attached to the 865th Combat Support Hospital, Utica, New York. U. S. Army Reserve Capt. Benjamin Yun, attached to the 804th Medical Brigade, Forest Park, Georgia embarked along with Falzone to arrive aboard Comfort on April 11.
“We literally doubled their capacity in one day,” said Falzone. “They had three pharmacists working 24/7 for nearly two weeks straight. When the call went out that they need some in-patient pharmacists we had just arrived at the Javits Center and we both stepped up to help.”
Falzone attests that this is his fourth deployment since his first during Operation Desert Storm and described the difficultly leaving his family behind.
“Everyone back home is worried about us, but we are more worried about how they are doing,” said Falzone. “When your country calls upon you to serve, you serve.”
Yun shares Falzone’s concerns as well as his dedication to serving a greater good.
“This is a very unique medical mission and probably the first mission that the medical brigade has had a lead role in,” said Yun. “While I never thought I would embark aboard a U.S. Navy vessel, I wanted the opportunity to serve my country and the people of New York City; I am dedicated to do my very best.”
Regarding the differences in service between the Army and Navy, Yun and Falzone agree that the Comfort medical staff has made their transition seamless.
“It has been a very easy transition because the Navy staff has been great and very professional,” said Yun. “The only struggle is the communication issues due to the lack of the universal electronic healthcare system that I am used to using in a civilian job.”
Falzone expresses similar sentiments, stating that, “It is more of the old-school tactics of hand-writing prescriptions and going back to paper charting, which is where I came from, but it is a newer experience for some of the younger members of the team.”
The Comfort is comprised of Sailors from around the fleet and civil service mariners from Military Sealift Command with unique capabilities to provide urgent medical support services.
“We appreciate the support from US Army’s 804th Medical Brigade for sending two pharmacists to support operations aboard Comfort” said Capt. Patrick Amersbach, commanding officer of the Comfort’s Military Treatment Facility. “This will increase our pharmaceutical capacity as we continue to support the people of New York City, treating patients regardless of their COVID status.”
Comfort cares for trauma, emergency and urgent care patients without regard for their COVID-19 status. Comfort is working with the Javits New York Medical Station as an integrated system to relieve the New York City medical system, in support of the U.S. Northern Command’s Defense Support of Civil Authorities as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.