By Stefanie Donahue
Years from now, when local dentist Dr. Patrick Rooney thinks about summer 2016, cool drinks and backyard barbecues won’t immediately come to mind.
Rooney, along with 1,200 medical corpsman and civilian volunteers, boarded USNS Mercy for Pacific Partnership 2016. The ship was docked at the Philippine city of Legazpi and for three weeks Rooney and his fellow members provided aid to individuals in need of medical care in nearby Ligao City, Tabaco City and Daraga. It was the first time he took part in the mission.
Rooney is a fourth-generation Blaine resident and has owned Blaine Harbor Dental since 1997.
He was recruited in December 2015 by the American Dental Association and joined four other civilian volunteers from throughout the United States. A contingent of active-duty medical corpsman specializing in dentistry, surgery and other health-related practices, or as Rooney calls them, “the Navy’s finest,” also participated in the mission.
Rooney served in Vietnam as a hospital corpsman in the Navy and his father served in the Navy for 32 years during World War II and Korea, he said.
“This trip I just took was the third generation,” he said. “They are the best. The brightest.”
The Pacific Partnership was created in 2004 out of a need for emergency preparedness in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. It’s an area that is prone to natural disasters, political turmoil and limited access to basic healthcare, Rooney explained.
“They don’t have the safety net that we do in this country,” Rooney said.
For much of the year, the 894-foot-long medical facility is docked in San Diego and ventures to the Pacific, Pacific Partnership crew in tow, about once a year dependent on funding. Last year, the ship deployed to locations in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam and the Philippines. This year’s mission featured additional stops to locations in Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
In partnership with host nations, crewmembers conducted a series of educational presentations to help prepare villagers for natural disaster events. Thousands received on-site medical attention at no cost.
Surgeons, dentists, pharmacists and more were on scene to provide immediate assistance to those in need. Seven days per week, Rooney and USNS Mercy crewmembers awoke at 4:45 a.m. to start the day.
Shortly after breakfast, half of the onboard crew jumped into a truck, gear in hand, to meet with villagers needing medical attention of some kind. The others remained onboard to demonstrate medical procedures to local medical professionals. By 8:30 p.m. they were ready for bed.
On average, Rooney would care for about 20 patients per day with what he described as advanced need. One day, he recalled, the team treated nearly 1,000 patients on land.
He describes his time on this mission as a humbling experience and outstanding honor.
“A person is a person,” he said. “We’re all subject to the same frailties.”
To learn more about Pacific Partnership 2016, visit navy.mil.