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Samaritan's Purse delivers 30-bed field hospital to Bristol Bay Borough

Courtesy of Samaritan's Purse

An evangelical Christian organization delivered a field hospital to the Bristol Bay Borough Monday. It’s a measure the state requested in case of an outbreak of COVID-19 in the community ahead of the fishing season. 

Samaritan’s Purse sent emergency field hospitals to Italy and New York this spring. Both places were badly hit by coronavirus. On Monday, the organization flew one to the Bristol Bay Borough. The borough is the epicenter of fish processing during the short sockeye fishery, and it's population grows exponentially as seafood workers and fishermen come to the region. The 30-bed hospital can be set up within 48 hours.

“If we need to be in there, if we need to set up, we’ll set up," said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, which is an evangelical relief organization.

Graham said Gov. Mike Dunleavy requested that Samaritan’s Purse send the hospital to the region, and that the state, as well as the Department of Defense, was instrumental in coordinating the effort.

“It took a lot of cooperation, cause there’s a lot of — various agencies that had to cooperate. And they all did this at record speed, so I’m very thankful for the leadership of everybody who’s involved,” he said. 

The Camai Community Health Center in the Bristol Bay Borough will have about 16 people on staff this summer, a small increase from normal. The clinic has been ramping up its testing capacity in recent weeks. It has a cepheid machine, which can run 16 tests at a time, and it is currently open for walk-up and drive-through testing. Mary Swain, the executive director of the Camai Health Center in Naknek, said the field hospital brings with it medical personnel who are trained to respond to outbreaks.

“Having people that know what to do, know what to look for, they will be able to identify things maybe quicker. It’s a place where those that are a little bit sick but not quite hospital sick can go and be taken care of,” she said. 

Samaritan’s Purse also sent two eight-bed COVID-19 response centers to serve as additions to the local health clinics’ facilities.

If activated, the hospital would be run by 20 medical personnel and 40 staff. Swain said they are currently preparing the gym of the King Salmon air force base for the hospital. The area will be ready after June 9. 

"So it’s actually three tents inside of one big building," Swain said. "There have been some comments out there about, ‘I can’t even imagine being in King Salmon with all of those bugs, having to deal with COVID.' So, everybody knows that it is inside. They call it a field hospital but it is inside.”

Camai has administered over 800 tests as of Friday, and it currently has staff dedicated solely to running the testing center.

“For the month of June we anticipate testing over 5,000 just in seafood workers and the port staff,” Swain said. 

On top of that, she expects approximately 2,000 fishermen to get tested in June.

The Bristol Bay Borough saw its first two cases of COVID-19 over the weekend. Because the individuals aren’t residents, they won’t be listed in the borough’s case count.

The Camai clinic is currently open for walk-up or drive-through testing weekdays from 1 - 3:00 p.m.

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.