Two Saint Mary’s ER physicians sworn in as SWAT doctors

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BY ANDREAS YILMA

NAUGATUCK – Two Saint Mary’s Hospital emergency room doctors are volunteering their personal time and giving back to the community once more through the Naugatuck Police Department.

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess swore in Dr. Scott Whyte and Dr. Wesley Kyle as Naugatuck SWAT doctors, or tactical physicians, at Town Hall on Feb. 20. Family, friends and SWAT members from other nearby towns, including Watertown, Waterbury and Wolcott, attended the ceremony.

“We’re thankful and proud that two volunteer physicians would step forward and play a very important role in improving our SWAT team,” Hess said.

The two doctors were sworn in to the department so they would have civil liability protection when they go out on calls. They’re covered for medical liability with Trinity Health of New England, the parent company of Saint Mary’s Hospital.

In the past, if the doctors responded with the SWAT team and didn’t do anything medically but something happened and the team got sued, the team would be protected but not the doctors, Whyte said.

“There was a group that felt the Good Samaritan Law protected us so why add extra legislation?” Whyte said. “The problem with the Good Samaritan Law is, it’s written such that a happenstance occasion you come upon, you could treat without fear of civil repercussion.”

Whyte has been affiliated with the Naugatuck SWAT team for about a decade. Kyle has been with the borough SWAT team for less than a year but previously was with North Central SWAT, which includes Kent, Avon, Farmington, Bloomfield and Simsbury, for about 10 years.

The swearing-in ceremony formalized previously standing agreements. It was something that has been in discussion for a while through the partnership with Trinity Health, Naugatuck Police Chief Colin McAllister said.

Whyte, who has been a Saint Mary’s emergency room physician for about 25 years, said he first got affiliated with the SWAT team by teaching bleeding control and some tactical combat casualty care. Borough police then asked him if he wanted to come to training, which eventually morphed into his asking about going out on calls.

Kyle, who was a 102nd Infantry Army National Guard battalion surgeon and was deployed to several countries, including Afghanistan, Somalia, Djibouti and Kenya, said he has been a Saint Mary’s ER doctor for about six years and is the current EMS Director at the hospital. He was invited to come down and be part of this team. He was born in Waterbury and is a Woodbury resident.

McAllister said pairing SWAT teams with physicians is common across the nation but not as common within Connecticut.

“I think that it’s something that other states have done for a long time and Connecticut and pretty much the Northeast has been slow to adopt,” Kyle said.

“Hopefully, this is something that makes it a little bit more common or formalized,” McAllister said.

Whyte said he worked with State Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, in 2021 to help pass a bill through the senate, but it never made it the house for a vote. The bill would have provided civil immunity to physicians in a police-role setting.

“I tried looking for personal civil liability. You can’t buy personal civil liability coverage for this type of activity.” Whyte said. “So what we’re hoping is, it’s great for Wes and I but what we hope is that there’s going to be more physicians that say ‘Hey, OK, it’s reasonably, legally safe for me to come out and help,’ so that’s what I hope for.”

Kyle said there is a need for this type of partnership.

“When an officer gets hit in the line of duty, there is a very finite amount of time where you can be present to intervene and potentially prevent a death that could’ve been salvageable,” Kyle said. “It really comes down to seconds. Seconds matter and being there as close as you can to the point of injury makes a tremendous impact.”

Whyte added the partnership is not only for police but for the civilian community, including a possible perpetrator, who would have to be made safe and not a threat.

“I feel that our police community as a whole has been getting more and more of a bad rap and it’s a difficult enough job that we all want to go home at the end of the day from jobs, not worry that we’re not going to see our wife and kids and it was the least, in my opinion, that I could do for them to try to help them get there,” Whyte said “So a sense of a duty, a sense of brotherhood.”

Kyle said there are many doctors doing similar work but don’t have this coverage. It’s opening the door for municipalities and police departments to follow suit.

McAllister said he’d like to see more departments throughout the state follow the lead as there’s no downside to having a higher level of care available for the public and officers.

Whyte, who said he plans to work with Sampson again on legislation, said he gives credit to borough police officers, Det. Paul Bertola and Lt. Otis Baskins. Whyte kept getting on top of the issue before the two officers brought it McAllister’s attention.

“I just want to credit both the doctors. They have a tremendous amount of training and experience that they bring to the table and it speaks to their character. The fact that they want to continue to give up their own personal time and go out and give back to the communities that they’re already serving in that capacity, in the emergency room,” McAllister said. “So it definitely says a lot about who they are and how much they care about the communities they serve, first in their primary day jobs and then to come out and give back on their own time afterward.”