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Mi Island Medical's C-FORTS platform with a built-in bathroom, priced starting at $350,000

ICU pods backed by hospital ships proposed for Caribbean cruise ports

As cruise lines face the possibility of having to provide full-fledged intensive care and isolation units on ships to cope with COVID-19, consultant Hugh Darley thinks he has a better idea.

Destinations take control

Darley proposes a solution that would allow Caribbean destinations to have more control, protecting their citizens but also restoring confidence in cruising by ensuring travelers don't get stuck on a ship should someone aboard fall sick.

Mi Island Medical is an integrated system that would see destinations screening every person on arrival at ports of entry. If someone is symptomatic, they would be taken to a self-contained field hospital for further testing and care, in isolation.

Portable ICUs

This field hospital would be made of ICU pods manufactured by FORTS, a Florida-based company that provides portable shelters for emergency, military and hospitality uses. FORTS is a supplier to the US Navy.

Destinations would be backed up by a dedicated hospital ship, each with helicopter. The two ships would operate on a set itinerary, one from a US mainland port — Darley envisions Tampa — serving the northern region and the other from Puerto Rico, serving the southern Caribbean. These would collect people from the shoreside ICUs to be quarantined on board or accommodated in medical suites and returned to a US homeport.

'Cruise lines would be provided with a clear and simple strategy for dealing with a viral outbreak or other medical emergency,' Darley said. Ships would be able to arrive at their destination knowing that expert care is ready at the dockside. If a situation warrants, a helicopter transfer directly to the hospital ship can occur.

The port quarantine facilities/mobile ICUs would be suitable to care for people who need further screening or a higher level of care without having to ‘enter’ the country, while repatriation can be planned, or a transfer to the hospital ship.

The hospital ships

Mi Island Medical has identified two Italian-built fast ferries that could be repurposed into hospitals, with the cabins refitted as general ward accommodations and the upper car deck holding prefabricated ICUs with independent ventilation for isolation and critical care requirements. The lower car deck would house bulk equipment, additional deployable FORTS units and emergency vehicles.

All this also could enable the ships to be deployed in a disaster situation, if needed. Their 34-knot operational speed would allow rapid response in an emergency.

'No one should rely on the cruise lines or airlines to provide a solution,' Darley said. 'Our system allows the island port authorities to test at the gangway and determine if the passenger or crew member is healthy or ill. Our on-site ICU can then be used to further test and determine if the patient stays in the ICU and does not re-board the ship.'

Mandatory travel insurance

A new class of mandatory travel insurance would be needed to support the system.

According to Darley, up to 2m US citizens alone are in the Caribbean region on any given day. On many islands, hospital facilities can be limited and triage challenging. The Mi Island medical plan for the umbrella coverage of the region would allow partner cruise lines, airlines and resort operators to ensure their customers have access to US/internationally approved facilities and treatments as soon as possible.

Darley said five pods are recommended at each port, consisting of three ICUs, a check-in area and an electrical/mechanical unit, at a total cost of about $1m to $1.5m.

Franchise package

Ports or governments would purchase a franchise package that includes the pods, equipment and training for medical personnel, who would be sourced from the destinations.

Islands and countries that form the membership community would benefit from access to modern and safe facilities that are backed up by and enhanced by regular visits of the hospital ship, according to Mi Island Medical. These could be used for tourists and as part of the wider community health support, providing access to MRI scanners and other equipment. The cost would be borne through tourism taxes and hotel groups.

Initially, Darley is seeking discussions with officials on Grand Bahama and Jamaica.

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