MTSU alumnus Tenpenny leads NYC opening of Samaritan Purse’s coronavirus field hospital

Middle Tennessee State University alumnus Dr. Elliott Tenpenny stands on the frontline of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City.

Tenpenny (Class of 2005), director of international health with Samaritan’s Purse, is leading a 72-member team that opened an emergency field hospital in Central Park on Tuesday, March 31.

It is a 68-bed facility with 10 ICU beds, Tenpenny, 37, said in a one-minute video released by the Boone, North Carolina-based Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian humanitarian organization.

Tenpenny, a Murfreesboro native and former medical missionary in the Congo, is among the doctors, nurses, lab technicians and other support staff who were deployed to New York, where the coronavirus pandemic has overwhelmed the local medical capacity.

“Our goal is to have this operational in 48 hours, as the city of New York and the federal government have asked us to respond as quickly as possible,” Tenpenny said as the setup began Sunday, March 29.

“Samaritan’s Purse, in cooperation and partnership with the Mount Sinai Hospital, have been coming together to get all permissions needed to ensure this (emergency field) hospital goes up as quickly as possible,” added Tenpenny, who earned his bachelor’s degree (major in biology, minor in chemistry and concentration in physiology) before ultimately deciding to pursue medicine.

While Franklin Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, is president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, Tenpenny became the face of the organization on-site and on its video and NBC News coverage featuring him and nurse practitioner Shelly Kelly of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Tenpenny told NBC reporter Janelle Griffith that Samaritan’s Purse “looks for where the need is greatest around the world. Right now, that happens to be New York City.”

The organization recently built another field hospital in Cremona, Italy, near Milan, another major COVID-19 hot spot. Tenpenny said it is the first time Samaritan’s Purse has had two emergency field hospitals running at the same time.

“We’re looking for those needs and want to respond to those as quickly as possible,” he told NBC News.

The Central Park field hospital will feature 60 to 70 medical staff, including nurses. Tenpenny said he anticipates nurses will outnumber doctors.

“The truth is, no one knows how big this need is going to be or how long it’s going to be present for,” Tenpenny said to NBC News. “Honestly, we hope it’s very short and that New York City isn’t suffering from this for very long. But we’re here for as long as the need exists.”

Concluding the video, Tenpenny asked video viewers to “please pray for the city of New York as the people here battle against this COVID-19 outbreak. We thank you for your prayers and support.”

Tenpenny’s medical resume includes the Mayo Clinic in New York, being a missionary doctor with Pioneer Christian Hospital and CME Nyankunde and Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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