John Minchillo was conducting an interview at Saint Joseph’s Medical Center when he heard the Code 99 alert ring out: A patient required resuscitation.
The Associated Press photographer rushed into the emergency room with his equipment. He needed to capture video and still pictures, all without interfering with medical staff who were trying to save a life — and were not used to having an outsider observing them.
“In that time, in that space, I needed to tell their story,” Minchillo said. “But do it in a way that protected them from distraction, me being a distraction. I think that we succeeded in that.”
So did the staff. Minchillo got footage of the medical team resuscitating the man and placing him on a ventilator.
Saint Joseph’s is the first U.S. hospital to give the AP access during the coronavirus pandemic. Discussions began between the Yonkers, New York, facility and photo editor Julie Jacobson.
Originally, access was limited to parts of the ER and hospital but not the ICU, which Minchillo expected because there is concern about allowing cameras in sensitive areas.
But he pushed for more and was allowed into the testing tent constructed outside the hospital and eventually the ICU, with the stipulation that patients would not be identifiable.
“After speaking with them, I was there to tell the story of the frontline medical workers that are saving lives in a pandemic,” Minchillo said.
He spent several hours at the hospital, in multiple departments. While shooting the scene in the ICU, Minchillo had a still camera in his right hand and a video camera in his left hand. And he was operating all of it covered in protective gear that was required for the assignment.
Minchillo fed the photos and videos to be prepared for distribution, and provided transcription of his interviews for an exclusive print story.
Minchillo was born in New Rochelle, a neighboring Westchester County city that also suffered an outbreak of the coronavirus. So he is especially invested in this story, in the suffering citizens of the community, and the people who are trying to save them.
“We told the story,” Minchillo said, “and they allowed us to tell their story.”