Dr. Scott Coyne moonlighted as a police officer in Long Island on weekends as a SUNY Downstate med student, reading JAMA in the precinct on his coffee breaks. He worked 20 years as a hospital radiologist before returning to public safety, and is now the Suffolk County Police Department’s innovative Chief Surgeon and Medical Director.
Dr. Coyne’s medical career took its unexpected turn January 25, 1990 when he ended up the first doctor on the scene of the Avianca airline crash in Cove Neck, New York. Decades later, he’s won national awards for starting a program to train every Suffolk County police officer to be certified as an EMT, dramatically shortening medical response times.
He was named Physician of Excellence for New York State EMS in 2016, presented annually by the New York State Department of Health and the New York State EMS Council to a physician of exceptional dedication and experience in the pre-hospital environment. He also received the REMSCO 2015 EMS Physician of Excellence Award for Suffolk County.
Avianca jet crash
Dr. Coyne was driving to work at Glen Cove Community Hospital (now Northwell Health) in 1990 when he encountered a barricade. An officer saw Dr. Coyne’s medical license plates and said, “We have a commercial jetliner down about a mile down the road. Would you please go up? We have very limited medical response at this time.”
A jet from Bogota carrying 180 passengers had run out of fuel and crashed near Cold Spring Harbor in western Long Island. Dr. Coyne got into a police car, and traveled a mile to the scene. There, the board-certified diagnostic radiologist who sub-specialized in interventional radiology, the Glen Cove Chairman of Radiology, began to triage and treat plane crash victims.
“There were one or two ambulances there at the most, and they were starting to bring people off the jet,” Dr. Coyne said. “We had all these stretchers, and people were being carried, and we put them down in the large area, and at one point before too long, I had 30 patients. I was there alone at that site for at least an hour before the other doctors got there, and I would say we saved a lot of patients’ lives. Some were deceased, obviously, because of trauma, but that certainly got me on my road to pre-hospital care. EMS care.”
Because there was no fuel on the plane and, therefore, no fire, 90 passengers survived.
Medical SWAT team
Dr. Coyne was invited to join the Suffolk County Police in 1992 to oversee the county Medical Evaluation Bureau, a team of doctors who tended injured officers and civilians, and determined their duty status. Then, his medical career changed course again.
“After 9/11, things radically changed. After that, the goal was preparedness and response,” Dr. Coyne said. “I was at 9/11 on the third day, and it was an overwhelming situation. Seeing the devastation of lives—it was beyond comprehension.”
In 2008, he began working with the county’s Homeland Security office, and got permission to develop Suffolk’s unique Medical Crisis Action Team (MEDCAT). He oversaw the first 15 advanced life support EMT/police officers trained at the paramedic level for New York State, a “medical SWAT team.” The team now numbers 29.
“I work with some very talented people in Homeland Security, and they were developing their own plan for preparedness, but I was developing the medical plan,” he said. “I took a good number of officers out of service for six months to train them up to ALS critical care level, and they all passed their exams so they became similar to paramedics.”
As medical director for the Suffolk County Police Academy, Dr. Coyne is responsible for all educational basic and Advanced Life Support EMT programs, according to the Suffolk County Police. He’s trained thousands of Suffolk County police officers and Fire/EMS personnel to provide care during high risk operations such as active shooter situations.
All Suffolk patrol officers are New York State-certified EMTs, a very unique distinction.
“The Suffolk County Police Department is fortunate to count among its assets the expertise and knowledge of Dr. Scott Coyne,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy D. Sini said. “Since his start with the department, Dr. Coyne has facilitated the implementation of life-saving programs that have helped improve the safety and well-being of Suffolk residents.”
In 2012, Dr. Coyne also spearheaded a Narcan program to combat heroin and opiate overdoses, according to Suffolk Police. From 2012 to 2016, officers administered Narcan 650 times to reverse overdose. The New York State Attorney General selected the SCPD Narcan Program as a model for law enforcement throughout New York State, and in 2014, the US Attorney General hailed the program as a model for law enforcement Narcan programs nationwide.
Dr. Coyne also led the creation of policy and protocol involving mental health emergencies. “We started about five years ago to give a module of mental health education to our officers as part of their basic training,” Dr. Coyne said. “We give them techniques to deal with the mental health patient, the agitated patient, the potentially dangerous patient. We teach them the de-escalation techniques so we can get control of the situation.”
The department has a detailed protocol to guide officers to a right determination of danger, and where to take the person for care – a local hospital or a center at Stony Brook Hospital, for more serious risks.
“I’m proud because we do respond to thousands of calls,” Dr. Coyne said. “Thousands. If you listen to the police radio, you’d be shocked about how many calls we receive for agitated people – out of control individuals.”
People associate “homeland security” with an attack on a stadium, for instance, with a federal response. It’s actually any threat to public safety that requires a coordinated local response. “When 9/11 happened, there was no FBI on the scene,” Dr. Coyne said. “There was the NYPD and the FDNY. I realized as Chief Surgeon, if something happens, like a major terrorist strike, that we are for a long time going to be the only responders. We had to set up a system of response so we could coordinate patient care triage treatment and then transport to multiple hospitals, which is what happened with Avianca.”
On a smaller scale, “There are automatic weapons, every town area has a mall somewhere, a church,” he said. “You don’t need a stadium.”
We tend to compartmentalize roles – police department, fire department and hospital, Dr. Coyne said, but public safety is public health.
One third of the emergency calls the police department receives over the radio in their patrol cars are medical-related, Dr. Coyne said, whether it’s a psychiatric emergency, trauma from a car accident, a bee sting with allergic reaction, a heart attack, stroke or diabetic shock.
“With that in mind, I’ve expanded the roles of the police officers throughout Suffolk County to enable them to respond more effectively to pre-hospital emergency medical calls,” Dr. Coyne said.
In 2012, James Holmes shot 12 people to death in a Colorado movie theater and injured dozens.
“EMS does not come into these situations, so all of the responsibility for neutralizing and or addressing the threat of a shooter or bomber is a police function,” he said. “But since EMS does not come into these situations, the police have a dual responsibility of taking care of the victims. Nobody else is going to do it.”
Dr. Coyne said he’s amazed by how his career has evolved. “If someone would have told me almost 40 years ago that this is what I would be doing, I wouldn’t believe it,” he said. “I’m working harder now than I ever did before.”
His Downstate classmates may remember a slightly younger Scott Coyne, the police officer with his nose in a textbook. “I look back all the time on my education at Downstate,” he said. “When you’re going through it it’s tough, but when you look back – it was such a wonderful education.”
Scott Coyne, MD
Dr. Coyne is a member of Suffolk County Regional EMS Council, the Suffolk County Regional
Emergency Medical Advisory Council and the New York State Regional Trauma Committee for Suffolk County. He is EMS Medical Director for the Lakeland and Holbrook Fire Departments, a Suffolk County EMS Field Physician and the EMS physician for Cold Spring Harbor Fire Department. He is also the Vice Chair of the Police Physicians Section of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He is appointed by the Governor and serves on the Medical Review Board of the State Commission of Correction.
“It has been my distinct honor to serve the Suffolk residents and all of the members of the Suffolk County Police Department every day,” Dr. Coyne said. “It has truly been the highlight of my professional career, and I look forward to many more years of continued service to our county and our great police department.”