Behind The Scenes

UC Health Physicians Provide Medical Direction for Cincinnati SWAT

Apr. 29, 2021

Season 5: Episode 4 Unique partnership allows UC Health’s emergency medicine physicians to educate, train local officers on basic trauma.

The reporting for this story was completed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most members of the public are familiar with Cincinnati Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, the brave and highly specialized police officers who deploy in high-risk situations to keep our community safe.

Many Cincinnatians probably don’t know, however, that a UC Health doctor works and trains right alongside the SWAT team to keep them safe if they are critically injured during an operation. This high-level tactical medical skill can only be found at the region’s academic health system.

“We bring a level of medical expertise to the SWAT team that you don’t see nationally in most cities.” Justin L. Benoit, MD UC Health emergency medicine physician and assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

If a member of law enforcement suffers a life-threatening injury while responding to a call, Cincinnati SWAT assembles to offer additional support. This includes a UC Health emergency medicine physician to help treat the injured individual.

“We are also involved in dignitary protection, so we are involved when presidential candidates come to town, for example,” says Lt. Brian Bender of Cincinnati Police Department, head of SWAT training operations.

UC Health’s SWAT doctors treat patients on-site during operations and train officers on basic trauma medicine in the event that they would need to provide treatment themselves. Residents from the UC Emergency Medicine Program also work with Cincinnati SWAT by doing “buddy runs” to gain valuable experience as they prepare to become emergency medicine physicians.

“Training and education are a huge part of what we do at UC Health. Bringing our residents and our fellows along is a great opportunity for them to get valuable hands-on experience,” Dr. Benoit says.

Founded in 1970, the UC Emergency Medicine Residency Program is the first and original emergency medicine residency program in the United States.

“Our purpose as tactical physicians is to support the team so if someone is injured during the mission, we are there to help. We are there for anyone who gets injured, whether it’s an innocent bystander or the perpetrator.” Dustin J. Calhoun, MD Associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the UC College of Medicine and medical director of Emergency Management at UC Health.

Both Dr. Benoit and Dr. Calhoun have been with Cincinnati SWAT for about ten years. Over the years, they have trained many officers and residents who worked with the team.

“We have a lot of clinicians who specialize in EMS medicine or prehospital care and learn how to take care of patients outside of the hospital,” Dr. Benoit says.

Each month, the SWAT team gathers for training around Cincinnati. A UC Health doctor is usually present at every tactical training session to practice treating patients in the field. They also educate and critique officers while they perform treatment themselves.

UC Health’s emergency medicine physicians also bring residents to training sessions so they can gain experience in a unique facet of medicine, one that isn’t necessarily found in the emergency room. SWAT training is one of the many areas an emergency medicine resident can experience during their time at UC.

Physicians and residents rotate during training throughout the year to ensure everyone gains exposure and works directly with the team. Unlike in the emergency room, there are few supplies to work with. Their medical bags include only basic necessary supplies to provide on-site treatment, including tourniquets and airway adjuncts (an instrument that opens the airway).

“It’s very different from being in the hospital. You have so much less equipment and fewer people to assist,” says Dr. Benoit. “Time is always a factor.”

In addition to their medical bags, our SWAT physicians wear body armor, a ballistic helmet and a radio headset for communication. They also wear vests that say “PHYSICIAN,” clearly identifying them as medical personnel.

SWAT physicians are ready to help when needed, but the goal is to make sure the officers know exactly what to do if for some reason a doctor is unable to assist, or if there are multiple patients requiring medical assistance.

“We want to get the doctor to the patient as soon as possible, but I also want the team to know how to do basic medical lifesaving measures, if needed. ” Lt. Brian Bender Cincinnati Police Department

During training, Dr. Calhoun quizzes his SWAT colleagues on the steps that need to be taken to stabilize patients before they are taken to an ambulance. Once on the ambulance, patients are transported to UC Medical Center for additional treatment at the region’s only Level I adult trauma center.

After each run-through, Dr. Calhoun reviews what the officers did well medically and what they need to work on when they treat patients. Overall, he applauds their work and trusts their skills.

“They’re really good. If I had an injury, I’d let any of these guys take care of me,” Dr. Calhoun says.

This unique partnership with Cincinnati Police Department is one of many ways that UC Health, Greater Cincinnati’s academic healthcare system, provides the expertise and training to help keep our community safe — both in the hospital and in the field.

“Our emergency medicine physicians and residents work with everyone here in Cincinnati, including Air Care & Mobile Care, Cincinnati Fire Department and SWAT,” Dr. Benoit says.

One thing is clear among the SWAT officers. They appreciate having a physician on the team who can give them lifesaving care if they need it. Michael Winslow, a veteran Cincinnati Police officer and established leader on the SWAT team, values this partnership, knowing he is in good hands during the most difficult situations. He knows that the “SWAT docs” have his back.

“I definitely feel safer with the physicians present,” Officer Winslow says. “I know that if something happens, they are going to keep us safe.”

Few hospital systems in the country feature physicians who are integrated into their local SWAT teams like UC Health. Dr. Benoit, Dr. Calhoun and the rest of UC Health’s SWAT physicians bring all of their expertise into dangerous real-life scenarios, when time is of the essence.

“It’s comforting to know that a doctor is nearby,” Lt. Bender says. “Having a doctor there to provide immediate lifesaving care is invaluable.”