On-Scene Doc Keeps Secret Service Employees, Protectees, Fit For UNGA

By C. Todd Lopez

NEW YORK CITY (Sept. 25, 2018) -- No minor illness is going to derail this week's United Nations General Assembly here -- not for the leaders of the more than 140 member states who will participate, nor for the special agents, uniformed division officers, or other Secret Service employees who facilitate the protection of those leaders.

For the sixth year now, Dr. Asa Margolis, a specialist in emergency medical services from Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore and also the deputy medical director for the United States Secret Service, will be on call for the duration of the 73rd annual United Nations General Assembly. He is there to make sure agents and officers can get medical care where they need it and when they need it. He'll make sure the agents and officers don't have to drop out of their protective or other details to seek medical care elsewhere in the city just when the activity in New York is at its peak.

"Our job is to provide operational medical support," Margolis said. "What that means is to be able to deliver care to our law-enforcement providers, our Secret Service agents, in an environment where they might not otherwise be able to seek care. We want to treat them where they are, to make it more convenient for them, so they don't have to seek out medical care at a hospital or at an urgent care clinic. We want to keep them healthy and working."

What that mission means for Margolis and his team is that unlike many doctors today, he's making house calls of sorts. "We go from person to person," he said.

During UNGA 73, Secret Service employees who need to see a doctor can contact the Multi-Agency Communications Center co-located with the New York City Field Office and make a request and Margolis can show up wherever the employee is to tend to his or her needs -- so the agent or officer doesn't ever have to leave their post. And the doctor doesn't just see Secret Service employees, either.

"If a detail has a protectee, and that protectee is requesting or requiring medical care, they would call us, and we would come and meet up with them wherever they are, whether at a hotel or an offsite meeting location, to provide care to that protectee as well," Margolis said.

The doctor said like the agents themselves, he's typically in a suit when on duty at UNGA, rather than in a lab coat. And that, he said, is partly for the benefit of any of those world leaders or agents who might need his services.

"I try not to be overtly doctor-ish, if that's a thing," he said. "My goal is to blend in. The number 1 thing is to maintain people's privacy. Whether you are a Secret Service agent, or you are a protectee from a country, you don't want people knowing that you need medical attention. The idea is to sort of blend in, provide care in an environment that protects who they are, and just do it in a way that doesn't draw any attention."

Most world leaders for UNGA 73 arrived in New York City Sept. 22-23, and by then, Margolis had already been on the ground for about a week with his team treating Secret Service agents in need. Margolis and his team, which includes a Secret Service EMT Agent and a Secret Service Emergency Services Provider, who is a paramedic, travel around the city in an SUV "fully stocked with a compliment of basic life support, advance life support equipment, and sick call medication," he said.

The team is on duty for 12 hours, and on call for the remainder of the day.

Once all the world leaders arrive in NYC, he said, a second medical team, just like his own, will show up to share the burden of ensuring Secret Service employees who are assigned to the UNGA mission can see a doctor without ever having to leave their post.

Margolis said during the years he's served as the on-scene doctor for UNGA, he's treated a lot of employees -- about 100 each year, he said. But thankfully, the calls are typically not too bad. The worst he's seen? Man's best friend bit the hand that feeds it.

"Significant dog bites," he said. "We had a dog bite one year where one of the dogs latched onto somebody's arms. And routine stuff -- nothing serious," he said, adding there's a lot of intestinal issues, sometimes a kidney infection, and an occasional skin infection that needed treatment in a hospital.

Margolis also said if he determines that an employee he's seeing needs to go to the hospital, or if an employee went on his own to a hospital to seek care, he can be right there to advocate on that employee's behalf with the hospital staff.

What world leaders will accomplish during UNGA 73 won't be known until the last of them returns home next week. But Secret Service agents and officers will keep those world leaders safe until they're ready to return home, and Margolis and both medical teams will keep the employees fit for duty.

"For us it's a tremendous honor and privilege to be able to work with the men and women of the Secret Service and make sure the job I'm doing is contributing to making them healthier and if they are feeling ill, feeling better," Margolis said. "That's a great thing for a physician anyway. But it's even more of an honor to be able to do so in a way that allows those who play a large part in keeping this general assembly running to do their job, which is the protection of dignitaries."