Hospital ship Mercy returning to San Diego after assisting coronavirus response in L.A.

The Mercy hospital shop entered the Port of Los Angeles on March 27.
The Mercy hospital shop entered the Port of Los Angeles on March 27.
(Associated Press )

The Navy ship saw 77 patients over seven weeks in Los Angeles and battled a coronavirus outbreak of its own among its crew.

The San Diego-based hospital ship Mercy will return to its home port Friday after seven weeks in Los Angeles assisting with patients during the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Northern Command said Thursday.

Mercy will leave the Port of Los Angeles about 7 a.m. and is expected at Naval Base San Diego sometime Friday afternoon, the statement said.

The ship left San Diego March 23 just as community spread of the novel coronavirus was increasing and state officials were concerned hospitals would be inundated with patients. The Mercy was to serve as a relief valve, taking on non-coronavirus patients and freeing up space in Los Angeles hospitals.


The ship saw 77 patients over about six weeks. It discharged its final patient May 5.

While in Los Angeles, the medical staff of the Mercy performed several surgeries, including the ship’s first-ever pacemaker replacement.

They also treated a single victim of a vehicle collision, performing eight surgeries, skin grafts and an orthopedic spine procedure on the patient, the Navy said. All treatment was free to patients.

While the COVID-19 patient wave never overwhelmed L.A. hospitals, the ship did fight its own coronavirus outbreak on board. Several sailors tested positive and were removed from the ship for isolation. John Fage, a spokesman for the Navy’s 3rd Fleet, said in an email that the majority of those sailors have recovered and have returned to duty.

Some medical personnel are staying in Los Angeles and Orange County to assist at skilled nursing facilities. About a month ago, 40 sailors began working off the ship at one such facility. The Navy says 20 more will also remain to help at others.

The director of the California Office of Emergency Services, Mark Ghilarducci, said Thursday that the Mercy was critical to the state’s response to the virus. He thanked the Navy, FEMA and federal administrators.

On the East Coast, another hospital ship, the Comfort, was deployed to support the pandemic response in New York. Unlike the Mercy, the Comfort treated COVID-19 patients among the 182 patients it served on board. It left New York on April 30.

Dyer writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.