USNS Comfort deploying from Hampton Roads on medical assistance mission

NORFOLK, Va. - The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort is deploying from Hampton Roads Wednesday to Central and South America to support a medical-assistance mission. 

The 11-week mission is expected to find the crew of the Comfort working closely with host-nation health officials in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Honduras.

The deployment is to help relieve pressure on medical systems in those nations due partly to an increase in migrants from Venezuela crossing their borders.

The Comfort was scheduled to deploy Thursday, but the departure got pushed up a day to avoid impacts from Hurricane Michael.

"We are going to get ahead of the heavy sea states and the high winds that may impact the local area here as a result of Hurricane Michael coming across the states," Rear Admiral Sean Buck, Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, told reporters on the pier Wednesday.

The ship's crew will include more than 200 U.S. and partner nation military doctors, nurses and technicians. Sixty medical and dental volunteers are also expected from non-governmental organizations.

Health ministries in each country will select patients with medical needs that can be evaluated and treated by the hospital ship.

"Our mission right now is to make as much impact as we can and that includes cataract surgeries, ophthalmic procedures, eyeglasses, dental procedures, ambulatory care patients, women’s health, pediatrics, pediatric dentistry," Captain Kevin Buckley, commanding officer of the USNS Comfort Medical Treatment Facility, told News 3 anchor Todd Corillo.

During each country visit, the team expects to treat approximately 750 patients per day at each medical site. They also expect to conduct up to 20 surgeries per day aboard the ship.