The streets of Cremona, Italy are empty and silent except for the wail of ambulance sirens.
In the northern Italian city, a field hospital has been set up in tents so members of the Samaritan’s Purse aid group can treat patients sick with the COVID-19 virus.
According to Bev Kauffeldt, a team leader with organization, inside the temporary hospital wards there are sounds of suffering and of healing; the hiss of life-sustaining ventilators but also prayer and song.
Samaritan’s Purse airlifted their 68-bed field hospital, along with their staff of disaster response specialists, to Cremona on March 17. The city of about 72,000 is located south of Milan in the Lombardy region which has been battered by COVID-19.
As of April 3, Italy had more than 110,000 confirmed cases of the virus and more than 13,000 people had died according to the World Health Organization.
Kauffeldt, who grew up in Salmon Arm, is at the field hospital supporting the team of doctors and nurses working gruelling 12-hour shifts to care for patients suffering from the respiratory virus. She said most of the patients admitted to the temporary wards in the parking lot of Cremona’s hospital are seniors; many have been sick for some time and need a lot of care. Kauffeldt said the medical staff have been doing an incredible job providing immediate care as well as reading and praying with the patients, and assisting those with mobility issues outside so they can enjoy the spring sunshine. Some of the staff have learned Italian songs and brought flowers into the ward. Kauffeldt said the hope fostered by these acts of kindness is incredibly helpful to the patients.
As patients recover and are discharged from the field hospital, word of the care they received spread and Kauffeldt said that care had been reciprocated by the local community. She said her staff received numerous thanks from the grateful families of those they helped and locals made them baked goods. Kauffeldt said after one woman who was discharged told her story to an Italian newspaper, requests began coming in from people asking their sick relatives be moved to the field hospital.
The Samaritan’s Purse Hospital, made up of rows of long white tents, sits just across a grassy lawn from Cremona’s hospital. Kauffeldt said the situation at the 600-bed hospital was dire when Samaritan’s Purse arrived — 500 of the hospital’s beds were in use for COVID-19 cases, with the remainder reserved for pediatric and maternity care. The field hospital opened and began taking on some of the COVID-19 cases, including seven to 10 requiring intensive care and ventilators. Kauffeldt said since the field hospital opened to assist them, the main hospital has been able to open 60 beds for critical care of ailments besides COVID-19.
Kauffeldt said she has been dealing with the Governor of Lombardy and the Mayor of Cremona who have both been very accommodating and thankful for the assistance as their region weathers the crisis. According to Kauffeldt, the mayor himself contracted COVID-19.
Kauffeldt said faith is an ally in coping with the inescapably stressful situation of responding to a pandemic.
Along with faith, the Samaritans Purse team has experience and professionalism to draw upon in facing the pandemic. Kauffeldt served with Samaritan’s Purse in the West African nation of Liberia. Her work there included responding to the Ebola epidemic which struck the country in 2014. She also helped respond to Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Kauffeldt said some of her colleagues participated in a Samaritan’s Purse mission to a war torn part of Iraq near the city of Mosul in 2016.
Kauffeldt said her parents Colin and Jacquie Mayes were a major inspiration in her choice to pursue a life of public service far from home. Colin was the Shuswap’s MP from 2006 to 2015. She said she also gained an interest in other cultures from teachers at Salmon Arm Secondary, and has drawn on the teamwork and perseverance she learned playing hockey and basketball on teams coached by Roy Sakaki and Terry Michel.
Having seen the results of an out of control COVID-19 outbreak firsthand, Kauffeldt said she hopes residents of Salmon Arm and the rest of Canada heed measures aimed at stopping the virus’ spread. She described the death toll in Cremona as staggering and said she would hate to see any other community go through what it has.