N.J. paramedic: Why there’s no urgency to transport someone in cardiac arrest

ambulance on emergency car in motion blur

Les Barta, a medical director at RWJBarnabas Health and a paramedic who has worked the sidelines at Rutgers University football games for two decades, said the medical personnel who cared for Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin on Monday night after he went into cardiac arrest made all the right moves.

Including the decision to provide care on the field for an extended period of time.

“I know there’s a lot of thoughts flying around in the Twittersphere about the time they were treating him, asking, ‘Why didn’t they take him to the hospital sooner?’” he asked, and then answered.

Les Barta. (Rutgers University)

“The reason the EMS team did not leave was that studies show us that the longer we spend on the scene to recover and stabilize a patient, the better the outcome is.”

Barta, the director of simulation for Rutgers University at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy and a paramedic for RWJBarnabas Health, understands the situation like few others. He has worked in various EMS roles for nearly three decades, provided emergency medical/event stand-by services for more than 25 years and taught resuscitation courses for over two decades.

That’s why Barta said the injured player received better treatment — and thus got a greater chance for recovery — by staying where he was.

“Although it was in a stadium, and there were things going on around them, if they were shocking him or intubating him by placing a breathing tube down his throat, staying on the field actually gives him the best chance of survival,” he said.

The ER would not provide any additional benefits, Barta said. In fact, it would only slow treatment at a time when every second counts.

“When you pick up a patient and race them to the ER, you’re actually doing a disservice to the patient, because you can’t do quality chest compressions and you can’t do quality airway management,” he said.

“What they were doing on the field in the first 20 to 30 minutes was what would have happened in the ER anyway.”

Barta said he is pleased that so much attention has been given to emergency action plans and emergency medical personnel this week. He just asks that others understand how much training is involved.

“The immense amount of work that is being done in a resuscitation is not necessarily known by the public,” he said. “That’s something that people have to recognize.

“Professionals are doing this. This is what we do any given day. This is what we exist for. Paramedics are built for this.”