Main Image: Samaritan’s Purse medical team in the Cremona Field Hospital. Image: Samaritan’s Purse. Listen: Dan Stephans from Samaritan’s Purse speaks to 96five about the Italian operation.
If there’s a ground zero for the coronavirus pandemic outside of China it would have to be the region of Lombardy.
The northern Italian region has been hit hard by the virus, with a cluster of cases detected in late February. Since then COVID-19 has torn through communities, overwhelming the health system and leading to deaths in the thousands.
Earlier this week the international relief agency Samaritan’s Purse opened their Emergency Field Hospital in the town of Cremona, just outside of Milan. Cremona is one of the worst hit areas in the country.
The field hospital was airlifted to Italy after discussions with the Italian government and various medical communities.
Dan Stephans is the Disaster Response Manager for Samaritans Purse Australia and told 96five that the field hospital is working in conjunction with the local hospital in Cremona.
“The hospital was completely overwhelmed; all of their bed capacity was at maximum and they had hundreds of people showing up daily that they had no room for. Samaritan’s Purse was able to set up our mobile field hospital in their parking lot and add another 60 bed capacity, along with another 8 ICU beds each with ventilators.”
A Light In A Dark Place
With a quarter of Cremona’s population of 70,000 aged over 65, the extra beds in what is now a specialized respiratory care have come as a relief to the town, but the beds have been quickly filled.
“We’ve seen over 50 patients already, and the ICU beds are full of patients who need that critical care.”
With the coronavirus having exacted a huge toll on Cremona, the Samaritan’s Purse medical teams are reporting that the once thriving community has now become all but a ghost town.
“No one is there and nothing is functioning in that town because the residents are so fearful of this virus. But in the night all you can hear are the ambulance sirens as they bring more people to the hospital. So many people are getting to the state that they need advanced medical care due to this virus.”
The medical staff of the Samaritan’s Purse Field Hospital are no stranger to rapid deployment. They were first sent to Ecuador in 2016 following a large earthquake, and most recently traveled to the Bahamas to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. The team have also served in war zones, with a field hospital operating near Mosul in Iraq during the ISIS conflict.
Dan said that it was their work during another epidemic that really prepared the team for what they were to encounter in Italy.
“We gained a lot of experience dealing in something like coronavirus when we deployed our health facilities to the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa. Since then we’ve been building up our resources, our capacity and our equipment to be able and prepared to respond to something like this.”
You can keep up to date with the work of the Samaritan’s Purse medical team in Italy at their Facebook page.