A floating hospital bearing the names of Bill Gross, co-founder of the Newport Beach-basedPimco investment firm, and his wife, Sue, will travel the Atlantic Ocean to bring medical aid to poor patients with no medical insurance in West African countries.
The Laguna Beach couple, through their Gross Family Foundation, have donated $20 million to Mercy Ships. That Texas nonprofit organization operates a hospital ship that delivers free medical treatment and training in ports along Africa’s Western coast.
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“Like our donation to UCI for stem-cell research, this donation was prompted after viewing a Mercy Ships segment on CBS’s ’60 Minutes,’ and then meeting with their employees and medical staff,” said Sue Gross, president of the Gross Family Foundation.
The plan is to have the new ship ready for service in 2017. It took eight years and more than $45million for Mercy to convert a donated 500-foot Danish rail ferry into the Africa Mercy, the organization’s newest ship, six years ago.
A ballpark figure for the cost of the new ship will be roughly twice that amount, or more than $90 million, said Jeff Kramer, Mercy’s vice president of resource development. The company is finalizing a contract with a shipbuilder.
The new ship will be about 70 feet longer and have twice the health care capacity of the Africa Mercy. It will hold up to 100 more beds and accommodate 200 more crew members, according to details provided by Kramer. The Africa Mercy has more capability than all four of the organization’s previous ships combined, Kramer said. Those other ships have since been retired.
The new ship will focus on Western Africa, where the medical crew of the Africa Mercy has performed as many as 7,000 procedures in one year. That ship recently visited a port in Sierra Leone for 10 months, during which 3,300 general surgeries and more than 2,600 eye surgeries were performed, along with more than 34,700 dental treatments. Local health care professionals also were trained in areas such as anesthesiology, and orthopedic and reconstructive surgery.
“We’ll have the capacity to go anywhere in the world, but the need is so great there that, even with two ships, we’ll just be beginning to address the challenges,” Kramer said.
The Gross Family Foundation was formed in 1994 and has donated more than $100 million to organizations like Hoag Hospital, Duke University and Cedars-Sinai.
The hardest part of running the foundation, Gross said, is that there’s “not enough time to meet all the world’s needs.”