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Boone-based Samaritan's Purse opens COVID-19 field hospital in Italy

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The Samaritan’s Purse emergency field hospital, specially equipped with a respiratory care unit, opened in Cremona, Italy Friday.

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The 68-bed unit was airlifted to Italy on March 17 using the relief organization’s DC-8 cargo plane to provide critical surge capacity to an overwhelmed hospital.

Click the video player above to see the plane staged before Tuesday's takeoff

The tent facility began receiving patients as soon as it opened so that staff could begin helping Italians with urgent medical needs.

Every day, hundreds of people are dying in Italy as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, and the Cremona Hospital has been forced to suspend all medical care except for maternity and pediatrics due to the overwhelming number of people suffering from the virus. The hospital is out of beds and people are suffering. To date, no patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit have survived the virus.

“The situation in Italy is desperate. The hospitals are overrun and people are dying,” said Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham. “We are called to respond in hard places. That’s why our team of disaster response specialists are on the front lines—providing life-saving medical care and sharing God’s love to people who are hurting.”

The Emergency Field Hospital is adjacent to the local hospital. When Samaritan’s Purse arrived with more than 20 tons of critical medical supplies, the hospital’s staff were overwhelmed with gratitude. One staff member said, “You are bringing hope to the city—even if it is dangerous, even if it is a crisis moment. I think this is going to change my country.”

In addition to what has already been sent, the Samaritan’s Purse DC-8 will airlift a second cargo load of medical supplies along with disaster responders to Italy on March 21.

The cargo plane carried approximately 20 tons of medical equipment, a specialized respiratory care unit developed specifically in response to COVID-19, and 32 disaster response specialists including respiratory therapists, doctors, and nurses.

Kelly Sites is a disaster assistance response nurse with years of experience in dealing with crisis. She said the work can be chaotic.

"A lot of things change rapidly, conditions change rapidly. We know to expect that, so we're all prepared with everything that we need on the flight, so we'll hit the ground running," Sites said.

Assistant to the Vice President of International Response Edward Graham said the responders will spend at least a month in the country. Samaritan's Purse said it is working with the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to take precautions for those going to Italy. The disaster response team is also prepared to respond in the U.S. if needed.

"We've been entrusted with an unbelievable amount of resources this hospital, these planes to get over there in a time of crisis when other people might not go or have the capability to go we've been entrusted to do so. It's all about sharing the hope of Jesus Christ," Graham said.

READ THE FULL STORY:Boone-based Samaritan's Purse opens COVID-19 field hospital in Italy

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