U.S. Naval Hospital Guantanamo Bay
There was a medical presence in Guantanamo Bay more than 100 years before the Spanish American War, when British troops established a hospital on a large island in the bay in October 1741 during a time when the British and Spanish were engaged in one of their frequent wars, growing out of trade conflicts in the new world. More than 100 years later, in 1854, a British warship, HBMS Buzzard, utilized Hospital Cay to isolate and treat crew members suffering from yellow fever. All the victims of the fever recovered except one, E. N. Harrison, Paymaster, R.N., who died on 1 December 1854, and according to records was buried on the cay's south end. The cay has since been known as Hospital Cay.
During the Spanish-American War, in 1898, the United States established a Naval Station at North and South Toro Cays (directly behind the current hospital). A dispensary was built on North Toro Cay, locally referred to as the "hospital". The staff consisted of one medical officer and a few corpsmen. When the Naval Station relocated from South Toro in 1913, the dispensary was reestablished on "Upper Flats,î located at what is now the base industrial waterfront area. All dispensary facilities were located in one building. The staff was still one medical officer and a couple of corpsmen, but during the winter periods when the Fleet was present, additional medical officers and corpsmen were assigned from the Fleet.
When the patient load became too large for one building, tents were set up to provide housing for the patients. During the ensuing years additional buildings were erected and the staff increased.
In September 1939, the Dispensary consisted of six buildings, most of them connected by covered passageways. With the possibility of war on the horizon, the dispensary, as it was then designated, became very busy establishing outlying facilities. In 1941 a small dispensary was set up at the Marine Corps site, and in 1942, a 16-bed dispensary was completed on the leeward side of the base at the Naval Air Station.
In September 1940, one of the most interesting experiments in Naval medical history occurred at Guantanamo Bay. Even at that time, it was obvious that modern warfare had put a high premium on mobility and that hospitals were no exception to the rule. Plans were drawn up for a mobile hospital, and to test its practicability it was to be sent along with a large expedition of Marines going to a Caribbean island. Guantanamo Bay was chosen as the site of the experiment, with the camp to be located some distance from the center of the Naval Station on a virgin peninsula composed of chaparral and cacti, now known as Mobile Point.
When the hospital unit arrived at Guantanamo Bay, their sad but enlightening experiences began right at the dock. The first materials landed were hospital ward furniture and caskets. The first-needed equipment such as tents, tools and stoves could not be unloaded until four days later. Since only a few construction men had been allotted to set up a hospital capable of feeding, treating, and housing 500 patients daily, the chief medical diagnostician became supervisor of tent erection; the psychiatrist devised and erected shower baths; hospital corpsmen acted as longshoremen, carpenters, and machinists. In spite of all difficulties the first hospital ward was ready for use in one week and the hospital was in full operation in two weeks.
From this pilot experiment at Guantanamo Bay, it was demonstrated that hospitals of great mobility (MASH units) could be constructed and that they could adequately care for the number of patients for which they were designed. Invaluable lessons, often times born of sorry experiences, were learned on the corals of Guantanamo and later paid dividends in human lives saved on the atolls of the Pacific and during the Korean War.
Early in 1943, an underground hospital was constructed in an area south of Radio Point, for use in case of an emergency. At one time, this underground hospital had a capacity of 200 beds and complete operating, pharmaceutical, and messing facilities. It has been used during drill periods in the hurricane season, but only on a small scale to determine its practicality and adequacy. At one time the crew of a submarine, which was operating in the area, occupied the underground hospital for a period of approximately two weeks. While the submarine was in Santiago de Cuba for a weekend liberty, one of the crewmembers became ill and died of polio before they could get to the Base hospital. While the ship was being thoroughly cleaned, and for morale purposes, the ship's company was moved into the underground hospital, but were in no way quarantined or isolated; from all reports they thoroughly enjoyed their stay ashore and found the facilities at the underground hospital very adequate.
The Naval Hospital, formerly the Naval Dispensary, was established on 1 June 1946 with Captain Paul M. Crossland as the first Medical Officer in Command. The Hospital was classified as a general hospital with staff adequate to offer medical care in any contingency. The Hospital had a bed capacity of 150 and an average census of between 80 and 120 patients.
The functions of the Hospital included Base military sick call (except for the Naval Air Station which maintained its own dispensary), sanitation, malaria control, venereal disease control, Fleet sick call and medical liaison, Labor Board Dispensary medical examinations, civilian employees sick call, Public Health Service and quarantine duties, hospitalization and medical care for all personnel and dependents on Base, and supervision and upkeep of the Navy cemetery. Dental activities were part of the Naval Dispensary during the war in somewhat the status of an independent department.
The Hospital gained full recognition and approval by the American College of Surgeons in January 1949 and is listed as a Class A hospital in the American Hospital Directory.
At 1600, on 11 October 1954, for the first time under emergency conditions, 82 patients and hospital staff were moved into the underground hospital to wait out Hurricane Hazel. Patients and staff subsisted on emergency rations, and on 12 October, when Hazel seemed safely passed, all staff personnel with the exception of those on watch, left the underground hospital. At 0800 on 13 October, the return of patients to the hospital was begun, and all patients were back in their regular beds by 1000.
The current hospital building was authorized by Congress in 1954. The first spade of earth was turned by CAPT Tilden I. Moe, MC, USN, Commanding Officer of U.S. Naval Hospital Guantanamo Bay, on Tuesday, 1300, 11 January 1955, in a ground-breaking ceremony on Caravella Point. The dedication ceremony was held on 24 September 1956. RADM B.W. Hogan, MC, USN, Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, delivered the dedication address and presented the hospital to CAPT L.A. Newton, MC, Commanding Officer, U.S. Naval Hospital Guantanamo Bay. Also speaking at the dedication was the Honorable Frank Berry, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health and Medicine. Approximately 200 people attended the dedication ceremony.
The $2.5 million reinforce concrete building was the first Naval Hospital to be fully air-conditioned. The construction also included billeting quarters for nurses and barracks for Corpsmen (renovated in 1975), as well as a combined garage and medical repair shop and a movie lyceum (closed in 1975). The hospital served as a general short-term treatment center, providing medical services and logistic support to the fleet and shore activities.
The first triplets born at U.S. Naval Hospital Guantanamo Bay were born on 20 August 1956, when Shirley Ann Cole, wife of PH3 James H. Cole, gave birth to three boys, all of whom survived.
A mass typhoid inoculation program was initiated for all Cuban employees on 1 November 1956. Also included were all military personnel and civilians, and their dependents, who had not been vaccinated for typhoid in the past year. The reason for the mass inoculation program was because a serious typhoid outbreak had occurred in the outlying Cuban area surrounding the base. No base personnel contracted typhoid fever.
An influenza epidemic in October 1957 necessitated the opening of an emergency ward in a wing of the Naval Station enlisted menís barracks. The hospital census reached a record of 135 patients on 27 October 1957.
Coffins containing the bodies of World War II Pacific Theater unknowns arrived at the base on 17 May 1958, and taken to the Naval Hospital. Twelve sailors acted as pall bearers to provide the proper reverential off-loading and transfer of the unknowns. The coffins of the unknowns were placed aboard USS BOSTON on 23 May 1958, for further transfer to the USS CANBERRA at sea.
The NATS Air Evacuation Service added the hospital to its customer list on 20 October 1958, providing twice a month service utilizing the 15th Aero-Medical Transport Squadron stationed at Brookley Air Force Base in Mobile, AL.
In May 1959, CDR Jack T. Jones, MC, USN, the hospitalís Executive Officer, was flown to Haiti to treat Dr. Francois Duvalier, President of Haiti, who had suffered a heart attack. After his recovery, the President of Haiti awarded Dr. Jones with highest award of the Haiti government, the Merite Milataire, Order Jean Jacques Dessalines La Grand, because of the excellent care the president had received.
On 1 April 1960, Commander Naval Base Guantanamo Bay received a request from the Mayor of Guantanamo City, Alfonso DeSola, for assistance in determining causative agents for a severe gastro-enteritis outbreak. Personnel from the hospitalís Environmental Sanitation Service, accompanied by interpreters were dispatched to Guantanamo to take samples, confer with local public health officials, and make such investigations as were requested and feasible. Reports of studies undertaken at the hospital were forwarded to Mayor DeSola for several days, each report containing a summary of information gained up to that day. The Mayor was advised as to the causative agent, the most effective drugs used in treatment of the illness, corrective measures to be taken, and the manner in which similar situations might be avoided in the future.
At the request of the Cuban Red Cross, on 7 March 1961, the hospital provided a quantity of poliomyelitis vaccine for the Cuban authorities to use in the Guantanamo area. The vaccineís expiration date had recently passed (12 December 1960) and was carefully pointed out to the Cuban Red Cross personnel. They chose to accept it anyway. There was a violent repercussion by the government in Havana, and ìEl Mundoî, the government newspaper, wrote an article declaring the vaccine inefficacious, and published a photo showing the expiration date on the container. After it was explained that the vaccine was transferred in good faith, had been properly stored, and was still well within the limits of high potency, the issue was dropped from the news.
Following the break in diplomatic relations with government of Cuba, a new procedure for processing the documentation of children born at U.S. Naval Hospital Guantanamo Bay was developed with the U.S. Department of State, and implemented on 5 December 1961.
HMCS Frank J. Clark, USN, stationed at the hospital, was awarded the RADM R.B. Ellis Serviceman of the Year for 1961.
On 9 February 1962, authority was obtained from the Chief of Naval Operations to transport military personnel and their dependents to San Juan, Puerto Rico, via government aircraft for the purpose of medical and dental consultation in specialties not available at Guantanamo Bay. The arrangements were made with U.S. Army Hospital, Fort Brooke, Puerto Rico, for the treatment and disposition of these patients.
In October 1962, the hospital was directly affected by what is now known as the ìCuban Missile Crisis.î On 22 October 1964, all the hospitalís patients were either discharged to duty or prepared for evacuation to U.S. Naval Hospital Portsmouth, VA. Hospital staff dependents were also being evacuated. The evacuation team was activated and by 1600, 22 October, the boarding and loading of evacuees had been completed. Staff medical officers from the hospital accompanied evacuees in two of the ships as these ships did not have medical personnel assigned. LT D.N. Tucker, MC, USNR, accompanied patients in the USS Hyades (AF28), and LT R.J. Scrimenti, MC, USNR, went with patients aboard USS Duxbury Bay (AVP 38).
At the same time, two surgical teams were order to the base by the Chief, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery ñ Team #4 from Naval Hospital, Bethesda, MD, and Team #1 from naval hospital, St. Albans, NY. The teams were billeted in the underground hospital during their stay, and in late November 1962, the teams returned to their parent commands.
Erratic Hurricane Flora waivered in the vicinity of Guantanamo Bay for two days, 4 ñ 6 October 1963, necessitating the activation and manning of the underground hospital three times during the course of the storm as a shelter for pregnant women in their last month of pregnancy, and any other children they might have in the family, as well as any others who might need medical care.
On 6 May 1974, the base would ready itself to treat the injured crewmembers of the submarine USS JALLO, which suffered a minor atmosphere explosion while conducting routine training in Caribbean waters south of Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. Naval Hospital here treated 19 individuals from that crew. Lt. Sandra Viven, HMCS Ronald Davis and HMC Janet Earp all received Navy Commendation Medals for the emergency assistance rendered.
During Operation Sea Signal (August 1994-February 1996) Navy personnel based at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay (NAVBASE GTMO), and Marines from II Marine Expeditionary Force, assumed the mission of feeding, housing, clothing, and caring for more than 50,000 Haitian and Cuban migrants seeking asylum in the United States. During that time, the Navy-Marine Corps team housed and processed more than 40,000 migrants awaiting repatriation or parole to the United States. Support to Joint Task Force 160 spanned 18 months.
October 1996 and February 1997 brought about Operation Marathon and Present Haven respectively, both of which were migrant contingency operations dealing with the interception of Chinese migrants being smuggled into the United States; the migrants in both operations received medical screenings from the Naval Hospital.
Beginning in early 2002, Guantanamo Bay has been utilized as a detention facility for enemy Taliban and al Qaeda combatants in the War on Terror. The Naval Hospital continues to provide health care and medical support not only to the detainees, but also the Joint Task Force and Fleet Hospital personnel, numerous federal and civil service employees, and various foreign national residents hailing from the Philippines, Jamaica, and Cuba, as well as individuals apprehended attempting to illegally enter the United States. Additionally, the Naval Hospital at Guantanamo Bay facilitates the Navyís only home health program, while continuing to provide medical and logistical assistants to Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard units during both deployment and redeployment phases.
The Naval Hospital has been recognized for several unit awards for its outstanding performance and collective achievements. The Acting Secretary of the Navy Sean OíKeefe awarded the hospital the Navy Unit Commendation for the period from January 1, 1991 - June 30, 1992, for sustaining normal operations while constructing and maintaining a Humanitarian Relief Center for care of more than 16,300 Haitian and Cuban Migrants. The Secretary of the Navy, Richard Danzig, again recognized the efforts of the Naval Hospital, this time awarding a Meritorious Unit Commendation for the period from June 1, 1996 - June 30, 2000, for assisting in the resettlement of more than 250 Cuban migrants in accordance with U.S. immigration policy. The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Vern Clark, awarded the Naval Hospital with an additional Meritorious Unit Commendation for the time period spanning December 23, 2001 - January 1, 2003, for medical care and logistical support provided during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Today, U.S. Naval Hospital Guantanamo Bay employs approximately 250 personnel (officer, enlisted, civilian, contractor, and foreign nationals) which support a base population of approximately 6,000, many of whom are military family members, government civilian employees and their families, special category residents, contractors, foreign nationals and migrants. It maintains a reputation for sustaining one of the highest patient satisfaction rates of any of the military treatment facilities in the Navy.