NEW YORK – A 68-bed emergency field hospital erected in Central Park is set to receive COVID-19 patients this week. But the relief effort is not without some controversy.
A team of 72 doctors, nurses and other health care workers from Samaritan's Purse, an evangelical Christian disaster-relief organization, have mobilized at the Central Park hospital, which is equipped with 10 ventilators. A makeshift morgue has also been set up.
"It's so surreal to be standing here," Samaritan's Purse nurse team leader Tim Mosher told USA TODAY in a phone interview. "But there's a lot of pressure right now. We know from experience there's a lot of unanticipated bugs in the process system.
"We don't want to make mistakes. We want everything to be right. We don't want to feel overwhelmed. We just want to make the city proud of us and of itself. There are a lot of emotions."
The hospital has partnered with New York’s Mount Sinai Health System and will prioritize moving overflow patients from the Brooklyn and Queens Mount Sinai branches so they can resume respiratory care treatment.
Because of anti-LGBTQ comments made in the past by Samaritan's Purse's founder, Franklin Graham, however, the group has faced backlash over the field hospital.
New York state senator Brad Hoylman posted a statement Monday night to his verified Twitter account in which he called on Graham "to publicly assure LGBTQ New Yorkers that they will receive the same treatment as anyone else at the Central Park field hospital." Hoylman also called on the mayor's office and Mount Sinai to "monitor conditions closely."
In a message posted to his verified Twitter account Monday night, speaker of the New York City Council Corey Johnson called Samaritan's Purse's ties to anti-LGBTQ beliefs "disturbing" and also called for monitoring.
"Our record on human rights is clear; and we are confident that the joint effort by Mt. Sinai and Samaritan’s Purse will save New Yorkers' lives while adhering to the values we hold dear by providing care to anyone who needs it, regardless of background," New York City Hall spokesperson Jane Meyer told the Gothamist in a statement.
The hospital consists of 14 tents in the park’s East Meadow, a patch of open grass near Fifth Avenue and 97th Street along the park’s eastern edge. Across the street on Fifth Avenue sits one of Mount Sinai’s several medical campuses within the city.
"This is the kind of thing you will see now as this crisis develops," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday.
Mosher said the field hospital in Central Park will be fully staffed with Samaritan's Purse workers and that the group would continue to consult with Mount Sinai on patient care and protocol. That has included visits from Mount Sinai specialists, physicians and advisers.
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A convoy of tractor trailers left Samaritan’s Purse’s headquarters in Boone, North Carolina, on Saturday. Staffers quickly unloaded temporary flooring and tarps in New York City and began to stake the tents in the grass. Once the tents were set up, staffers outfitted them with medical supplies and equipment.
Regardless of their respective titles, all 72 healthcare workers on the ground helped get the field hospital operational.
Volunteers from local churches also joined, as did residents who came to support the effort. Moshed said "well more than 100" people came to help.
"There's no way we would be opening today without them, period," he added. "They just showed up."
As of Tuesday afternoon, the finishing touches – last-minute cleaning and mulching the grounds – were being applied before the first patient is processed later in the day.
Samaritan's Purse has built field hospitals all over the world, including Africa, Ecuador, Haiti and Iraq. This is the first the organization has constructed in the United States.
"Usually we go, we come home and life goes on," Mosher said. "That's not happening this time. We always have disasters on our radar. It just happens to be here."
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New York City remains the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. As of Tuesday morning, the city was reporting more than 38,000 confirmed cases and 914 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard. By comparison, the city has 232 more deaths than the entire country of Germany, according to Johns Hopkins.
Local hospitals have seen surges of patients with symptoms. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, de Blasio and other officials have called for help such as field hospitals to prevent the collapse of the health care system in the city. On Monday, a 1,000-bed Navy medical ship, the USNS Comfort, docked in Manhattan to help alleviate the strain on hospitals and will begin receiving non-coronavirus patients Tuesday.
The hospital in Central Park is the second emergency field hospital Samaritan’s Purse has equipped, joining a branch outside of Milan, Italy, that has been in operation since March 20.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Central Park hospital will treat New York City patients