Federation Society members get special tour of Navy hospital ship

by | Jun 7, 2013 | Other News

UJFT visitors stand on the upper deck of the USNS Comfort.

UJFT visitors stand on the upper deck of the USNS Comfort.

A silver lining to the United States government’s budget sequestration came to an event sponsored by the Maimonides and Business & Legal Societies of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater on Sunday, May 19.

A group of 20 Jewish community members were able to take a special, guided tour of the USNS Comfort Hospital Ship, recently home ported at Norfolk Naval Station from its previous berth in Baltimore.

The ship was originally scheduled to be on a Continuing Promise mission from April through August, providing humanitarian and civic assistance to Central America countries, but funding for the mission was eliminated in late March due to Congress’ failure to reach a budget agreement.

The unfortunate deployment cancellation for the Comfort’s staff and crew provided an opportunity that members of the Societies had been hoping to plan for a year, but were unable to because of the Comfort’s busy schedule.

The tour was arranged and scheduled by Maimonides Society member, Navy Captain Dr. Martin Snyder, a force surgeon with the U.S. Fleet Forces Command. Snyder enhanced the tour by sharing his experiences as a vascular surgeon operating aboard the Comfort during the first Persian Gulf War, and immediately following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Visitors on the tour learned about the Comfort’s primary mission to provide a floating, mobile, acute surgical medical facility to the United States military, as well as to provide full hospital services to support U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide.

“We have state-of-the-art equipment that allows us to provide Level 4-type care, similar to what you’d see at Johns Hopkins and other facilities,” explained Jon Strong, a hospital corpsman who helped lead the tour.

Capt. Kevin Knoop, the Comfort’s commanding officer, was also present, explaining the advanced capabilities of the ship, as well as pointing out the special considerations necessary when operating and treating patients at sea.

As they walked through the massive former supertanker—outfitted with contemporary and state-of-the-art diagnostic and surgical equipment—the civilian medical professionals were impressed with what they were witnessing.

Dr. Jerome Blackman, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in Virginia Beach, found the tour intriguing and enlightening.

“This is 100 percent new material for me,” said Blackman. “A lot of equipment on this ship some of us have never seen before, like a plasma autoclave. It’s very interesting for me too, because I teach at the Naval Hospital and this is the first time I’ve been on board.”

Patients usually arrive on the Comfort by helicopter, landing on a flight deck designed for that purpose. Once on board, they are literally hosed off if necessary, then assessed and sent for testing, surgical procedures or treatment.

When fully staffed, more than 1,000 patients can be cared for on the ship. Highlights of the Comfort include 12 operating rooms, X-ray rooms and a CAT scan unit, a dental suite, optometry labs, a pharmacy, an oxygen producing plant and water distilling plants that can desalinate sea water to make it potable.

The ship is 894 feet long and 106 feet wide, and has seen patients and provided medical assistance during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, at Ground Zero after 9/11 and on two Continuing Promise missions, among other military and humanitarian efforts.

To learn more about the Maimonides Society and the Business & Legal Society of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, visit www.jewishva.org, call Carolyn Amacher at 757-452-3181 or email camacher@ujft.org. To see more photos from this event, “Like” JewishNewsVa on Facebook.

article and photos by Laine Mednick Rutherford