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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

You must bring your own meds to Comfort, Javits Center

Local residents watch as the USNS Comfort departs

Local residents watch as the USNS Comfort departs Hampton Roads en route to New York to help in the response to the coronavirus outbreak on March 28, 2020 in Hampton, Va. Credit: AP/Steve Helber

The news that the USNS Comfort and medical facilities at the Jacob Javits Center would accept COVID-19 patients was hailed this week by the likes of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who called the federally staffed facilities a “relief valve” for New York.

But New York hospitals are still supplying some of their own relief.

Patients approved for transfer to either the Comfort or the Javits Center must bring with them a “five-day supply of all medications,” according to a letter from the state Department of Health to hospital personnel that was obtained by The Point.

That requirement was confirmed by Terry Lynam, spokesman for Northwell Health, which is assisting in clinical operations for both facilities. “The reason is we need to ensure there is adequate medication for the patients being brought" to the Javits Center or the Comfort, he said.

He added that he understands both sites “have limited pharmacy supply.”

The hospital sites also apparently are fairly empty, with Pentagon officials saying on Tuesday that both were treating only 110 patients between them, according to Politico.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Second Fleet said Wednesday that 78 patients had been treated on board the Comfort, an uptick from the day before.

The state Department of Health did not return a request for comment. A Department of Defense spokesman did not address the five days of medication requirement, but said the department at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided $3 million in pharmaceutical items to support Javits Center personnel, and $2 million of the same items to the Comfort.

The Second Fleet spokeswoman said in a statement that the 5-day supply was “an additional precaution to ensure no gaps in care.”

“Patients will not be turned away for not bringing medications and while we have a logistics chain that is keeping us stocked on supplies, we want to ensure that our patients can absolutely continue to receive their medications as they are transferred to the Comfort,” the statement said.

In addition to the medications, the letter says patients cleared for transfer must also have tracking wristbands, transfer face sheets and medical discharge summaries.

“It is clear that the planners did not either have the time or the resources for pharmaceutical supplies,” Kristine Qureshi, associate dean for research and global health at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, wrote in an email.

Qureshi, a disaster-preparedness expert who says she served on the Comfort’s sister ship Mercy as a volunteer on a humanitarian mission, suggested that shortages of supplies can be a downstream effect of “corporate style management of hospitals and health systems.”

“Being lean does save costs, but is a problem in that there is reduced capacity for surge.”

Mark Chiusano is a member of Newsday's editorial board.