When The Military Fights A Pandemic At Home
you're listening to shortwave from NPR. So this story begins in Queens on the evening of Tuesday April. Seventh Queen's is a borough in New York City like a lot of new. York Queens is generally very dense and a lot of people who live in Queens are essential workers people who work in healthcare at retail stores that are still open in transportation and construction jobs and queens has been hit really hard by the pandemic. Ooh So the number of cases in Queens has been really high and multiple hospitals. There have been either filled or overfilled. Meaning they don't have enough beds and staff for everyone who arrives so that Tuesday evening this is. According to the city's Department of Emergency Management. One of those hospitals flushing hospital. Medical Center had a problem. The oxygen system for the Haas blow was acting up and it became clear that there were too many critically. Ill people hooked up to it using oxygen all at once because it wasn't designed for that many people and was in danger of failing which would mean that people who are relying on the oxygen could die so okay. What did the hospital do like? They get additional oxygen or move the patients to hospital in another borough. That isn't add capacity. They needed to do that. But these patients they were really sick. They were all on ventilators. Moving them safely was difficult and to make matters worse. Another hospital in Queens. Have the same problem that night so in all there were twenty six patients who needed to be evacuated basically from these hospitals and remember. The hospitals are already overwhelmed. They don't have extra staff to get these patients ready to be transported to monitor them as they're being transported to figure out where to take them right right. It's like it's a mess exactly. So the hospitals sound the alarm to city health officials and basically say this is an emergency. We need help and the help. They came with soldiers across the city at a convention center which is a temporary hospital right now. Army doctors got on the phone with doctors at the hospital. And they made a plan a coordinated effort by multiple branches of the military to evacuate these patients and get them somewhere with enough oxygen before it was too late. I'm Maddie Safai here with 'em pure science reporter Rebecca Hersher today on the show one night in New York City. How troops from three branches of the military came together to help some really sick patients. It's a window into how training for war does and does not prepare you for a pandemic at home okay. So today we're talking about how the military is helping out with the krona virus outbreak in New York City. Becky what are they actually doing? At first it was a real range of stuff that the soldiers who came to New York seem to be doing the National Guard was sitting up cots. They were putting swabs and other materials and two plastic BAGGIES DRIVE-THRU CORONA virus testing sites. The Marines were in town. The army was in town. The navy showed up with a giant hospital ship with like twelve hundred sailors. The governor of New York kept thanking the military and talking about military medical personnel right. I remember seeing those pictures of the US NS COMFORT. A Navy hospital ship floating. Pass the Statue of Liberty. Right and the ship is a floating hospital. It actually has dozens of fully equipped fully staffed. Icu beds onboard. Exactly the kind of beds that those patients in Queens. There were running low on oxygen that they needed. I talked to the commanding officer of the ship about that day. His name is captain. Patrick Amherst Bach. He said the ship was already expecting seven or eight patients that evening from other New York hospitals. So that's what we were preparing for when call out? The first thing they had to do was postponed those patients to free up the staff to receive patients from Queens so we can focus on those. That's we're in a much more dire situation. And then they had to decide how many critically ill patients they could safely receive. We decided on a number which was ten ten ten patients so about a third of the total number who needed to be evacuated from Queens. Exactly the patient's going to go to other hospitals on land mostly in New York City and one reason captain armor is back and his team decided that ten was the number was because although the hospital on the ship is pretty normal pretty similar to a hospital on land. The big difference is what it takes to bring patients onboard that is correct so unlike a regular hospital where you can pull up to emergency department And the D's Air transport teams right there. We rely on ramps to move our patients so it's just a lot more involved than it would be at a normal emergency department so they brought in basically towards the front of the ship. They have multiple ramps And then always to the very after two very back this ship and then processed and so it does take time for actual physical movement of each station so the sailors on the ship till the army folks over at the Convention Center the ones who initially answered that call for help Okay bring him to us. Bring us those ten patients okay. So sailors on board the ship or getting ready for these patients naval doctors and nurses on the ship who have to help get patients on board and then treat them but how does the army get the patients from the hospital in Queens to the Navy Hospital Ship Right. So armee officers call their soldiers and say we have a mission and I just want you to imagine this for a moment from the point of view of those soldiers. I talked to a Young Sergeant. Who went out that night? Yes ma'am my name is Sergeant Levin Stanley from Fort Hood Texas. I'm a sixty eight. Victor which is a respiratory therapist and. I've been doing that for approximately four years now. Sergeant Stanley was at the Laundromat near the Convention Center on Tuesday evening. I was washing clothes when her boss calls her and says basically get ready. We got called into the work in thirty minutes at work like in uniform at the Convention Center. Ready to go and when she gets there her boss explains what's happening that the oxygen systems failed at these hospitals. There are dozens of really sick patients on ventilators you need to be moved in each respiratory therapist including Sergeant Stanley is going to be paired with an army nurse in the two of them will be assigned to an ambulance paramedic and a driver so sergeant Stanley. She's never done anything like this before she usually treats soldiers and their families on BASS. The same way as civilian doctor treats people at a clinic. This is her first time in New York. She never worked on an ambulance before so there was a lot running through her mind. what are we GONNA do? What else is in town? I was pretty excited at the same time but at the same time. I was nervous so she gets in this ambulance and they drive to Queens. Yeah it takes about half an hour and she says she was curious to see the city on the drive but all she could see out. The back window of the ambulance was another ambulance. Not a great tour okay. So what happened when she got to the hospital? She says the ICU was really hectic. There weren't enough people to treat all the patients and this is one reason that military medical workers are in New York to be there in these really overwhelmed moments when there aren't enough nurses an ICU. To handle everything that needs to happen because treating people who have really serious cases of cove in nineteen is really labour-intensive and moving them is even more labour-intensive sergeant family thinks. It took about an hour to get the patient ready to go into the ambulance. Wow Okay so. The medical military folks are helping evacuate patients from the hospitals. But I have to imagine this took like a lot of logistical work from non medical folks to. You're totally right. There are thousands of soldiers and sailors and Marines without medical training who are deployed four corona virus with all the risks that that entails and in fact a lot of logistical stuff. That has to happen to handle. A pandemic is really similar to the stuff that the military already trains for during war. War is really logistical. And there's this really good example of this from this night last week. An example of a boring logistical thing. That members of the armed forces were prepared for exactly and it involves yet another branch of the military. The Marines is slim. I am the company commander as part of Third Battalion. Second Range so this is another person. I talked to captain. Peter Hoffman Gun. He and his marines are usually at Camp Lejeune North Carolina. And we typically train. And prepare for deployments. Obviously typically abroad The past year. We've spent preparing to go to Afghanistan. When when was he supposed to go to Afghanistan this week? Oh this week okay. But as the world adjusted and shifted to this emerging situation we were fortunate enough to be selected. Answer the call to support our fellow Americans city. So what's the role for him? And his marines in this rescue mission. Well one thing that his marines are really good at setting up checkpoints. So they're running the checkpoint on the pier next to that Navy hospital ship checking. Id's keeping track of who comes and goes what else well remember. They trained for combat. They trained for situations where there are multiple people who are hurt at once and so last week when ten ambulances with ten patients were coming from hospitals in Queens so the ship that was a situation that the marines were actually ready to help with now. Ideally and this is according to both captain often got anthony captain of the ship. Ideally the ambulances would have been spaced out right so that there was time because remember it takes a little while to get patients onboard the ship. But that didn't happen. So when did you realize that you weren't going to have that time in between ambulances more or less when they arrived which which is which is Okay Becky? That sounds like a guy who's used to stuff going a little bit wrong. You know what I mean yes exactly. I think that's the definition of being in the military ready for things to go a little bit wrong right and that was the ship's commander Captain Amorous Bach. So He's ended like he was pretty used to it so all ten patients show up at the same time. To ship you've got the army nurses and respiratory therapists on the ambulances stabilizing the patients. And then you have the marines at the checkpoint on the pier plus the Navy doctors and nurses on the ship ready to treat those patients when they're on board. Yeah and I think when we talk about the role of the military in the current virus response. This moment actually tells you a lot. Because the military's role is to support civilian workers support not takeover and about this moment shows that like the army soldiers in the ambulances there working alongside paramedics from the city. Fire Department the Marines at the checkpoint. They're working with the NYPD. The police and the navy ship it's taking patients at the hospital cannot treat so navy. Doctors and nurses are the backup for the civilian doctors and nurses amazing. But Okay Becky what happens? Ten ambulances just showed up at the Pierre with ten very sick patients on ventilators. I know this is spent. It's it's really hectic. Each ambulance gets a team from the ship. Who's responsible for getting them on board at one point One of the patients looks like they might die. They're crashing the heart rate and oxygen levels are not good the move that patient to the front of the line figure out that some of the ambulances don't have enough oxygen. That's part of the problem. So Captain Hopping Sends Marines. They run up the ramps onto the ship and run back tanks of oxygen each Kinda. Grab one and run. Ironically we conduct every year we have to take combat fitness test eight hundred meter sprint. And so this kind of actually they trained for that to run. And that's what we carry heavy stuff fast and and help solve problems in chaotic situations. I love that I love that. Yeah in the end. The commander of the ship says everyone got on board safely and as a week later all ten people who arrived that were still alive. Ooh I mean this is. This is nice because I think the news coming out of New York City has been really tough and it's nice to be reminded of all the good people they're risking their lives to save lives. Yeah I mean the military is frankly really good at this kind of thing. Okay Becky I appreciate you. Thanks for bringing us this story. Yeah thanks so much. Many episode was produced by Rebecca Ramirez edited by Viet Lay. In fact checked by Emily von I managed to Fi- thanks for listening to NPR shortwave. Oh and before you go make sure to subscribe to this podcast to make sure that you get new episodes as soon as they're available which you want.