Field Hospital Opens, Receives Patients in Italy

Samaritan’s Purse staff is treating patients with coronavirus outside Milan.

The Samaritan’s Purse Emergency Field Hospital airlifted to Italy earlier this week will receive its first patients today after being fine-tuned into a specialised respiratory care unit for COVID-19 patients.

Local officials and Samaritan’s Purse staff join in a dedication ceremony.

Local officials and Samaritan’s Purse staff join in a dedication ceremony.

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A group of Samaritan’s Purse staff and local officials–including the mayor of Cremona, the director of Cremona Hospital, the regional minister of health, and Italian media outlets–gathered to dedicate the hospital to the community and to the Lord.

“Lombardy is leaving a dark period. You are a bright light. The first bright light in our dark sky,” said Giulio Gallera, the minister of health for the Lombardy region.

The field hospital was built in less than 36 hours through the efforts of about 30 Samaritan’s Purse disaster response staff, soldiers with the Italian Air Force, and volunteers for the Lombardy Region Civil Protection force. We opened on March 20 with eight ventilator-equipped ICU beds, 20 general care beds, a lab, and a pharmacy–all housed among eight tents that stretch across the Cremona Hospital parking lot.

“You are…the first bright light in our dark sky.”

A second airlift on March 21 by the Samaritan’s Purse DC-8 jet will deliver another load to soon complete the 14-tent, 68-bed field hospital in Cremona, which lies just outside Milan in the hard-hit Lombardy region of Italy. A nearly 70-member team comprised of doctors; nurses; biomedical and lab technicians; electricians; and water, sanitation and hygiene specialists all will be on the ground this weekend.

“Everyone’s incredibly dedicated,” said Kelly Suter, medical director of the Italy COVID-19 response. “Everyone has been working around the clock, getting things done, filling in wherever they can. We’re all motivated by a desire to love like Jesus loves, to be His hands and feet and to be the miracle in darkness.”

Giulio Gallera (left), Lombardy Minister of Health, and Gianluca Galimberti, Mayor of Cremona, tour our medical facility.

Giulio Gallera (left), Lombardy Minister of Health, and Gianluca Galimberti, Mayor of Cremona, tour our medical facility.

More than a quarter of Cremona’s 72,000-person population is over 65, and the city has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping the globe. In recent weeks, Cremona Hospital has been so overwhelmed with an influx of COVID-19 patients from the surrounding region that it had to stop all other medical services, except for pediatrics and maternity. It, like many healthcare facilities around the world, currently faces a shortage of ventilators and even healthcare workers, as they themselves succumb to the infectious respiratory disease.

To date, none of the critical COVID-19 patients at Cremona Hospital have survived. Every day the hospital staff and community residents are feeling the physical and emotional strain. Our respiratory care unit will provide much needed support to the hospital, which will provide the initial screening, triage, and testing before sending patients into our care.

“They are supporting us significantly; this is very much a joint effort,” said Suter.

When we arrived, our team was told that with the entire country of Italy facing a daunting number of coronavirus cases, Cremona itself felt abandoned in the midst of it all. When local health authorities found out we were coming, they told Suter that they felt like their prayers had been answered. The Lombardy region has so far reported about 2,200 deaths related to the novel coronavirus, well more than half of Italy’s grim total.

The Emergency Field Hospital begins today receiving patients.

The Emergency Field Hospital begins today receiving patients.

For local Cremona resident Lara Raffini, a social worker, daily life in Cremona has changed drastically since the beginning of March when the first cases of COVID-19 began spreading among residents there. The streets of the city – birthplace of renowned luthier Antonio Stradivari–now echo with seemingly ever-present ambulance sirens and an occasional passing car, rather than the soaring strains of violin strings.

“In this silence, this is not life,” Raffini said. “This is very, very sad.”

Samaritan’s Purse is receiving coronavirus patients at our Emergency Field Hospital in Italy.

Samaritan’s Purse is receiving coronavirus patients at our Emergency Field Hospital in Italy.

In the face of all this, Raffini said that for many Italians–who thrive on social interaction and typically greet each other with a kiss on the cheek–“This I think is affecting the psychological part of ourselves because we started to understand that being together, being close, was a danger for our lives.”

That’s why the crucial support provided by the Samaritan’s Purse field hospital “is a hope point in this moment for our city,” Raffini said. “I think that if you want to overcome the sadness that you have inside, the first thing that you have to feel is that you are not alone.”

Hundreds are dying each day right now in northern Italy, and the country’s total death toll—more than 3,400—has surpassed China’s as the highest in the world. So, from Suter’s perspective, the hospital opening could not have come at a better time.

“We’re all celebrating this opening together, and it can’t come at a better time,” Suter said. “Hopefully with our support, the support of many others and of course the grace of God, these numbers will start decreasing.”

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.—Deuteronomy 31:6

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