Three Jamaicans are among hundreds of medical personnel from the United States currently offering free healthcare services to needy Jamaicans on board the US Navy Hospital Ship, USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), in Kingston.
They are Navy Chaplain, Lieutenant Commander Devon Foster; Divisional Care Officer, Lieutenant Demerce Young, and Ensign/Nurse, Danielle Rae Walters. They are all members of the US Navy.
In interviews with JIS News on the floating hospital, they say it feels good to be able to come back and offer free service to Jamaicans who are in need.
The oldest, Lieutenant Commander Foster, who was born in Spanish Town, St. Catherine, says it has been two years since his last visit to Jamaica, and he is delighted to be back in this capacity.
“It is a privilege to come back here in Jamaica and be able to provide services for our people. It’s a blessing and it’s an opportunity that not many people have or will have,” he tells JIS News.
“The opportunity that we have had so far, to go to 12 countries, including Jamaica, and have the opportunity to reach people who need our help, primarily in the areas of healthcare and the ability to meet their needs medically… is a privilege,” he adds.
As the Command Chaplain, Lieutenant Commander Foster says he is responsible for taking care of the spiritual needs of people on board the ship, which include counselling.
“We also take care of, and provide for all the other denominations that are on board that are of non-traditional faith background. I’m also the Coordinator of all community relations activities (off ship),” he adds.
Lieutenant Commander Foster has been a Chaplain for 13 years and he has served the US Navy for more than 20 years.
While living in Jamaica, he recalls going to Crescent All-Age School and Ensom City All-Age (now Primary) School.
“In fact, I was one of the first students going to Ensom City All-Age School when it opened. I remember being on the morning shift and then switching over to the evening shift, so that was an experience,” he says.
Lieutenant Young, who serves as a Divisional Care Officer in the Intensive Care Unit on the ship, migrated from Portmore, St. Catherine, at the age of 16 years to the United States.
He says Jamaica has helped with his development as a child and youth, which makes him feel that he can now give back.
“For me, I am really ecstatic, and I’m just grateful to be here doing this,” Lieutenant Young tells JIS News.
“I’m learning from the Jamaican community as well, so it’s like a partnership. It’s a collaboration of us teaching each other, with your medical professionals as well as ours,” he adds.
Lieutenant Young attended José Martí Technical High School and Independence City All-Age School. He went to Washington Adventist University and joined the US Navy on June 1, 1999.
He has been on board the USNS Comfort since June when it departed for its mission trips. When he is not on board the ship, he works at a Navy Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia.
For nurse Walters, who was born in the United States to Jamaican parents, this is her second mission in Jamaica, and it feels amazing to give back to the country of her parents.
“Travelling like this… I’ve been able to appreciate and embrace different cultures. What comes with that is to assimilate and to know how diversity really impacts the world, and how our Navy is more intertwined with some countries than some people have realised,” she says.
She joined the US Navy in 2012. She was on the hospital ship in 2018 when it departed the United States for Latin America and South America.
“My experience has been great because this is my second go-around, so I know what kinds of things to expect. It has been pretty much the same thing in terms of nursing care, as I do the same tasks in the hospitals,” Ms. Walters says.
“When it comes to the patients, I know that they come with different ailments and different conditions that they need surgery for, but we know what to do when we get the patients… so it’s a fast-stream process. I like the experience, and I feel like it’s always a blessing to be in a position where I can help people,” she adds.
Nurse Walters also works at a Navy Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia.
The US Navy Hospital Ship has docked in Jamaica for the third time as part of a five-month deployment to Central America, South America and the Caribbean in support of humanitarian and partner-building efforts, as part of the US Southern Command’s Enduring Promise initiative.
The administrators of the ship are working with health and government partners in Central America, South America and the Caribbean, to provide care on the ship and at land-based medical sites, while helping to relieve pressure on the local medical facilities.
Since 2007, personnel involved in USNS Comfort deployments have treated more than 488,000 patients, performed 5,500 surgeries, completed over 100 engineering projects, and conducted countless other assistance activities.