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Escondido native aboard Navy hospital ship responds to COVID-19

Escondido native Cmdr. Shawnna Chee aboard the USNS Comfort.

Cmdr. Shawnna Chee, a native of Escondido, California, is serving aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort as part of the efforts by the U.S Navy in response to COVID-19.

Comfort arrived in New York with Navy medical personnel and support staff aboard the afloat medical treatment facility (MTF). Although initially tasked to serve as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients, as of April 6 the ship is now taking patients regardless of their COVID-19 status. The ship provides a full spectrum of medical care to include general surgeries, critical care and ward care for adults.

Chee is serving as a Navy clinical psychologist who is responsible for supporting doctors, nurses, corpsmen and crew members in providing emotional outlets and coping skills during stressful times.

“I assist leadership by giving information about the overall status and morale of the crew,” said Chee.

“The USNS Comfort arrived in New York City with more than 1,000 medical professionals who are ready to provide safe, high-quality health care to the city of New York,” said Capt. Patrick Amersbach, commanding officer of the USNS Comfort Military Treatment Facility. “We are grateful to serve the needs of our nation.”

“I’ve deployed three other times in my career but this is my first ship-board deployment,” said Chee. “This mission is very different and requires ‘thinking outside-the-box’ for solutions, and also allows me to be out of an office and with the crews in their spaces; providing support while they work.”

Comfort’s primary mission is to provide an afloat, mobile, acute surgical medical facility to the U.S. military that is flexible, capable and uniquely adaptable to support expeditionary warfare, according to Navy officials. Comfort’s secondary mission is to provide full hospital services to support U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide.

“As behavioral health care providers, we measure our success by how many people do not come into our offices, because this demonstrates all our resiliency efforts and prevention measures that we do all the time are working,” said Chee. “I hope my impact can be seen by the staff in being able to recognize their efforts as a success and meaningful, despite some failures.”

“This mission is a culmination of all my 19 years of military service, and gives me the opportunity to participate in a non-traditional mission, side-by-side with the warfighter, in this case military medicine, that allows for creativity, flexibility and coordination with the chaplain, wellness committee, dietitians and MWR to support as a comprehensive team approach. This is what I live for,” Chee added.

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