Hospital ship Mercy, with 1,000 beds, will help ease L.A.’s healthcare strain amid crisis


Los Angeles County hospitals at near capacity may see relief this weekend as patients who have tested negative for the novel coronavirus will begin transferring to the Navy hospital ship Mercy, which docked at the Port of Los Angeles on Friday.

Navy officials say it will be up to local and state officials to decide who will be transferred, and those patients will have to undergo screening before being allowed on board. Emergency medical service workers transporting patients will be prohibited from entering the ship and will also be subject to screenings.

Officials said they have yet to determine whether or how patients would receive visitors.

During a new conference at the port, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the arrival of the ship from San Diego could not have come at a better time, as health experts expect local hospitals to see a surge in the number of patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

“I want to thank the president personally on behalf of a grateful region, on behalf of a grateful state, for sending this ship and the incredible resources that reside within this ship to the state of California,” Newsom said.


The Mercy has roughly 800 medical staffers, 1,000 hospital beds and 12 operating rooms.

The ship will house patients who do not have COVID-19 in an attempt to free up regional hospital beds for those who do. Some patients who are already hospitalized in Los Angeles County will be transferred to the ship for ongoing treatment, port officials said Thursday.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said ship will be the largest hospital in Los Angeles and will bring much needed hospital beds amid the city’s fight against the coronavirus.

“This will be a COVID-19 free bubble,” Garcetti said. Whether a patient is taken to the ship directly from an accident or from a hospital, he said, one less bed taken up at L.A. hospitals means another bed in the ongoing fight against coronavirus. “So this ship is truly mercy on the water ... and the expression of who we are as Americans and as people at this moment.”

Newsom said earlier this week that California would need 50,000 hospital beds for coronavirus patients, a significant increase from the 20,000 beds his administration had forecast last week. The governor said the state’s 416 hospitals were doubling so-called surge plans to 40% of their capacity, which includes providing 30,000 new beds across the system.

Newsom last week asked the Department of Defense to deploy the Mercy and two mobile hospitals to California to help accommodate the expected surge in hospitalizations of residents stricken by the novel coronavirus.

USNS Mercy hospital ship in San Pedro
People watch the arrival of the Navy hospital ship Mercy in San Pedro.
(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Although the Mercy is staffed with naval medical personnel, they will be working under guidance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local health authorities, said Capt. Dan Cobian, commander of Destroyer Squadron 21.

“Our role is really to work underneath the umbrella of FEMA and the state and local health authorities,” Cobian said. “We intend to be ready to receive patients the day after we arrive.”

Rear Adm. Tim Weber, commander of Naval Medical Forces Pacific, said the crew aboard the Mercy is serving a “higher calling.”

“With COVID-19, Navy medicine, as in any time our country calls, is delivering medical power to assist our communities in time of need,” Weber said.

Times staff writer Wigglesworth reported from Los Angeles, and Union-Tribune staff writer Dyer reported from San Diego.