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AP Exclusive: All-formats access to a lifesaving New York emergency room

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As coronavirus infection and death rates mounted, hospitals imposed strict visitation guidelines allowing only a small handful of media outlets limited access inside the dozens of hospitals in the New York City area.

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In protective gear, photographer John Minchillo prepares to enter St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Yonkers, N.Y., April 20, 2020. – AP Photo / Julie Jacobson

Finally, after weeks of phone calls and emails to more than 20 different hospitals, St. Joseph’s Medical Center, a small unaffiliated hospital in downtown Yonkers bordering the Bronx borough, agreed to give The Associated Press access to its emergency room and screening tent. The catch? Only one journalist would be allowed inside. Solid in his craft of still photography, reliably skilled with video and thoughtful at interviewing, New York City staff photographer John Minchillo was an easy choice for East regional news director Sara Gillesby.

Up for the challenge, Minchillo quickly began preparing his approach and questions while configuring his equipment to boost his chances for success while juggling three formats. The day of the visit, Minchillo arrived an hour and a half early and suited up in the hospital’s parking lot with a full Tyvek jumpsuit, N95 mask, face shield and gloves. With time to spare before meeting the hospital’s staff, John called the public relations contact and asked to come inside early.

“I’m not here to tell a story. I’m here to tell your story,” Minchillo told the senior medical staff. “If the ER is a bit slow today,as you think it could be,then the best way we can tell your story is in the ICU.” The hospital’s medical director spent a few seconds thinking that over and granted AP access to the make-shift ICU in addition to the ER and screening tent.

Minchillo made the most of the next four hours,gathering all-formats content,from interviews with members of the hospital’s medical and administrative staff,to the screening tent where treatment began,to the make-shift ICU where patients are intubated and cared for in isolation,to the emergency room where he successfully captured,in both stills and video, the intensity of medical staff resuscitating a patient in cardiac arrest – a sidebar described Minchillo’s experience covering those dramatic moments.

Once home from the hospital Minchillo worked through the night prepping the interviews for the text story,drafted with reporter Brian Mahoney; clipped, prepped and organized the video interviews and b-roll; and edited the photos for a slideshow. He delivered the package before the sun set the next day.

The all-formats package played widely on numerous websites including all the major networks,the New York tabloids,The Washington Post,The Daily Telegraph,US News and World Report,Miami Herald,and many others. ABC World News Tonight led their shows with Minchillo’s video which also drew nearly 900 newsroom-ready downloads,second only to the Canada mass shooting. On social media,the story received 28,000 Facebook engagements.

For his golden tongue and persuasive yet sincere manner which led to better access at the hospital,and for his powerful,comprehensive all-formats storytelling that takes us inside medical workers’ daily fight save lives against the coronavirus, John Minchillo wins this AP’s Best of States Award.

For AP’s complete coverage of the coronavirus:

AP’s hub for comprehensive all-formats coverage of the virus outbreak.

Understanding the Outbreak: stories explaining the new coronavirus.

One Good Thing: daily stories of hope and humanity amid the crisis.

Ground Game: Inside the Outbreak: AP’s podcast series.

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