As we take a few minutes to reflect on this Memorial Day, it must remain in our hearts that Veterans must be included with those hardest hit by Covid-19. The best of intentions frequently overlook the needs of the most silent. Back on March 29th, FEMA instructed the Department of Veterans Affairs Hospitals in Manhattan and Brooklyn to open fifty beds in ICU and acute care rooms in direct response to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s request that the Federal Government help create more beds. Ironically, the beds were not filled by veterans. Instead, non-military civilians from the surrounding metropolitan NY area were immediately transported. We must note that no initiative was enacted to locate veterans from private Veteran homes that had Covid-19 patients.
NYHC wants to take the opportunity to remember the 50 veterans that reportedly died in the Long Island nursing home. To date, there are more than 1000 veterans in VA health system sites that have been lost due to Covid-19 infections. Along with the veterans who are not getting the proper ceremonial honors at their burials due to Covid-19. However, hundreds of other veterans were lost in the state-run homes. We ask, how many of these veterans would still be alive today if they were fast-tracked to USNS Comfort. And for those who would have succumbed to the infection, how many would have been happier spending their final hours on the military hospital ship? Of course, these are tough questions.
On this Memorial Day Observance, NYHC is honored to have Congressman and veteran Max Rose offer words of thanks to the crew of USNS Comfort. A purple heart recipient, Max Rose served as a platoon leader in Afghanistan and was wounded there in 2013. In addition to his representation of the 11th Congressional District from Brooklyn and Staten Island, he currently is attached to the New York Army National Guard for active duty.
NYHC is proud to have found men and women of distinction to help tell our Covid-19 New York story. The time span of the documentary is from March 7th (the first covid deaths in NYC) to April 30th (when Comfort leaves NYC). The key focal characters are Rachel Hartley, who answered the call for ICU nurses, sailing her temporary residence into New York Harbor and USNS Comfort’s Chaplain, Lt. Johnny Bravo. There is a strong spirituality between the two, told from their respective ships. The working New York Harbor personnel is represented by the Sandy Hook Pilot, Captain Tim Ferrie, who navigated Comfort into its NYC pier. USNS Comfort’s Commander Amersbach offers his precise detail of the Hospital ship operations.
New York Harbor is in lock down for all passenger ship traffic. The cruise ship industry ties NY waters to the oceans of the world. We also touch on Erika Butters’ plight stuck on a Cruise Ship stranded in the Atlantic Ocean. As Covid-19 tears apart careers and industries, Erika’s 56 day saga offers a musical therapy as she records a consistent daily post on Facebook from her ship. Erika’s music offers uplifting melodies under our visual footage. NYHC has taken the best of our interviews over the past two months to piece together this unique story.
Governor Cuomo and President Trump provide the Covid-19 reality as well as the backstory as to why Comfort was in NYC for only 30 days. The hospital ship only treated 182 Covid patients over a mere 14 day period. Despite the political tension that permeates the atmosphere, Comfort does exhibit its marvelous medical deployment and staff acumen. Not a single Covid-19 patient treated on-board was lost.
We conclude with shout outs from New Yorkers including one from Congressman Max Rose. With Comfort’s return to the Norfolk Naval Station, one missing element remains… a Mission Name. We invite everybody who was touched both physically and spiritually to offer a name for the Navy Command to consider. NYHC has chosen ‘Operation Gentle Shadow’ as its reach in dark times has brought calm and compassion to the waters of New York Harbor.
After USNS Comfort sailed out of New York Harbor, the torch had been passed to a visiting nurse from Lynchburg, Virginia and the hundreds of other healthcare workers like Rachel Hartley. Of course, we cannot forget about the thousands of healthcare workers who started this battle when Covid-19 first entered the NYC hospital system back in February. Departure day for the Comfort marked a significant Turning Point for New York. The number of Covid-19 cases was slowly, but steadily on the decline.
NYHC wishes to take this opportunity to personally thank the men and women of the USNS Comfort for their service to the nation The ship exemplified professionalism. What’s more, the hospital ship also served as a ambassador. It was indeed a Gentle Shadow that spread compassion from the waterfront to all the New York and New Jersey front line workers. As you sailed out of the harbor, you took your excellence with you to serve on another mission. For New York, Operation Gentile Shadow will live on as a shining light that helped bring us out of the unknown darkness. We wish you fair winds and following seas!
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