10 photos show what it’s like aboard a US Navy floating hospital that is providing medical care to thousands of South Americans

The USNS Comfort shown underway on its deployment to Central and South America. The ship is expected to see nearly one thousand patients per day, providing much-needed care in the region.

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The USNS Comfort shown underway on its deployment to Central and South America. The ship is expected to see nearly one thousand patients per day, providing much-needed care in the region.
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US Navy

The US hospital ship USNS Comfort anchored off the coast of Colombia during its deployment to Central and South America, where it will see an estimated 750 patients per day.

The Comfort departed Norfolk, Virginia on October 10 for Operation Enduring Promise. By the mission’s completion in December, the ship will have seen patients in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Honduras. This is the ship’s sixth mission in the region. On previous deployments, the ship has provided medical care for as many as 390,000 patients, according to the Navy’s press release.

Here’s how the ship’s crew provides care to their foreign patients.


The Navy works with the host nation’s health services, coordinating shore-based facilities where the ship’s crew will screen patients and provide more basic levels of care

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Patients wait to be attended by staff of the USNS Comfort outside of the Divina Pastora high school in Riohacha, Colombia on November 26, 2018.
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Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters

The crew began screening patients in Riohacha, Colombia on November 24, two days before the official opening of its shore-based facility at a local high school.

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Patients wait to be attended by staff of the USNS Comfort at the Divina Pastora high school in Riohacha, Colombia on November 26, 2018.
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Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters

Some patients are receiving care that they otherwise would not be able to afford.

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Patients are attended by staff of the USNS Comfort at the Divina Pastora high school in Riohacha, Colombia on November 26, 2018.
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Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters

According to a Reuters report, Colombia has received about one million Venezuelan migrants, which has added strain to an already beleaguered healthcare system.

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Kamila, daughter of Yenymar Vilches, a Venezuelan migrant, is attended by USNS Comfort staff at Divina Pastora High School in Riohacha, Colombia on November 26, 2018.
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Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters

The crew of the Comfort can provide check-ups and more basic care on land, but patients requiring surgery must be flown via helicopter to the ship.

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USNS Comfort staff attend to a patient at the Divina Pastora high school.
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Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters

The ship’s crew wait to receive their patients from a UH-60 Black Hawk

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The UH-60 Black Hawk is assigned to Joint Task Force-Bravo.
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Spc. Joseph DeLuco/US Army

While at anchor, the Navy estimates the ship’s doctors will perform 20 surgeries per day.


After surgery, the patients will rest before being transported back to shore via helicopter.


Patients are outfitted with helmets and inflatable life preservers before heading out to the ship’s flight deck.


Patients load into an MH-60 Sea Hawk to be flown back to shore.