Medical staff at the Samaritan’s Purse Emergency Field Hospital in Cremona, Italy, are now caring for multiple coronavirus patients in intensive care.

The mobile medical facility was airlifted to Italy on March 17 and opened March 20 after being fine-tuned into a specialized respiratory care unit for those suffering with COVID-19.

Members of their disaster response team and local officials–including the mayor of Cremona, the director of Cremona Hospital, the regional minister of health, and Italian media outlets–gathered early in the morning on March 20 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,” says 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. It 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 delivered another supply load to 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,” says 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.”

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. Samaritan's Purse says their 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,” Suter says.

Hundreds are dying each day right now in northern Italy, and the country’s total death toll—now nearly 5,500—has far 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 says. “Hopefully with our support, the support of many others and of course the grace of God, these numbers will start decreasing.”