Warren, Colleagues Request Information from DOD on Hospital Ship's Role in Puerto Rico Response Efforts
Senators Express Concern that USNS Comfort was Underutilized for Weeks After Arriving
Text of the letter available here (PDF)
Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today led five of her Senate colleagues in writing to the Department of Defense (DOD) to request information on the DOD's efforts to provide medical care in the aftermath of Hurricanes Maria, and to request information on the role of the USNS Comfort in the Department's Puerto Rico response efforts. The letter was also signed by Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.).
In their letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis, the senators expressed concern about why the USNS Comfort, a military hospital ship considered to be "one of the largest trauma facilities in the United States," was not operating at full capacity weeks after arriving in Puerto Rico on October 3. "We were concerned by early reports that the Comfort, in spite of its robust capabilities and staff, was nearly empty," the senators wrote. "On October 17, only 33, or 13%, of the ship's 250 beds were reportedly in use... Through October 27, the Comfort had reportedly treated an average of just 9 patients per day."
The senators noted that the USNS Comfort now appears to be operating at full capacity, and they requested information on the challenges it faced in providing emergency medical care in Puerto Rico, as well as specific details on why the Comfort was not operating at full capacity upon arrival to Puerto Rico. The senators are seeking the following information from DOD:
- The total number of patients treated by the USNS Comfort since arriving in Puerto Rico and patient totals for each week the Comfort has been in Puerto Rico.
- Whether the USNS Comfort is currently operating at full capacity.
- An explanation for why the USNS Comfort was not operating at full capacity as of October 27.
- Why the USNS Comfort was offshore for weeks and how the decisions were made to move it from San Juan after its initial arrival, and then back to port.
- How to streamline or eliminate the referral process that appears to have stood in the way of patients who sought to receive treatment from the Comfort.
- Why the President and his Administration did not exercise authorities under Section 402 of the Stafford Act to send the Comfort to port sooner.
- The DOD's protocols for providing access to hospital ships in disaster relief efforts and determining eligibility for treatment on such ships.
- If these protocols were followed in Puerto Rico and if the DOD is considering any changes to these protocols to avoid similar underutilization of ships in future disaster relief efforts.
- How decisions are made about deployment of the USNS Comfort, and which individuals and agencies are responsible for making these decisions.
- What the Comfort's anticipated deployment length is, and whether it will leave Puerto Rico while there is still an apparent need for its services.
- A list of the military teams under the DOD's purview that have set up and are providing care through hospital facilities, their capacity, and the number of patients each team has treated.
In the weeks since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Senator Warren has:
- Joined colleagues in urging Senate appropriators to include in a third disaster supplemental bill additional funding to help schools impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
- Urged Puerto Rico's Financial Oversight and Management Board to request that the Court overseeing Puerto Rico's debt restructuring completely write off the Island's debt obligations.
- Led a group of 12 senators asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for information about water- and vector-borne diseases in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Written to the Trump Administration outlining what ought to be included in a third disaster supplemental appropriations bill to address the damage caused by hurricanes and wildfires across the country.
- Joined colleagues in demanding federal agencies expedite power restoration efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Joined in leading a group of 7 senators in pushing the Trump administration to increase efforts on Vieques and Culebra, especially securing the Vieques Superfund site.
- Urged the Department of Education to use its discretion to help college students and student loan borrowers displaced or otherwise unable to continue their education in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
- Led a group of senators urging DHS to take steps to ensure the accuracy of the official fatality count in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
- Called for Puerto Rico's debt relief during a Capitol Hill rally in coordination with the #JustRecovery march.
- Participated in a FEMA briefing on the status of recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Led a coalition of senators in a letter to President Trump, urging him to step up disaster recovery efforts on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra.
- Held community meetings in Massachusetts to discuss the economic and humanitarian crises on the islands.
- Pressed President Trump to take eight immediate, specific actions in response to the crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Urged HHS to provide additional resources and better coordinate efforts to combat the growing public health crisis on the ground.
- Called on the President to use his authority under the Defense Production Act to more swiftly respond to the disaster.
- Written to Republican leadership requesting that Congress be allowed to promptly take up legislation to provide the necessary aid to the U.S. citizens living on the islands.
- Asked President Trump to waive the local cost-sharing requirement for the hurricane response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and for the federal government to fully cover recovery expenses.
- Joined Senator Markey in calling for a resolution to the Univision-Verizon retransmission dispute, to hasten the restoration of Spanish-language news programming in the wake of the hurricanes.
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