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Hospital Photographer Says Documenting The Pandemic Poses A 'Unique' Safety Challenge05:43
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Louie, a COVID-19 patient. (Jeff Rhode/Holy Name Medical Center)
Louie, a COVID-19 patient. (Jeff Rhode/Holy Name Medical Center)

Photojournalist Jeff Rhode is documenting the coronavirus pandemic through the lens of patients and staff at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey.

For Rhode, the photos that capture emotional moments stick out in his mind — such as a patient’s final hours alive. He spent the last five or six hours with a patient named Louie who recently died.

Julie Falasca helps a patient, Louie. (Jeff Rhode/Holy Name Medical Center)
Julie Falasca helps a patient, Louie. (Jeff Rhode/Holy Name Medical Center)

A team of nurses and patient care technicians surrounded Louie like a “surrogate family” and helped him FaceTime his caregiver, Rhode says.

Putting down his cameras, Rhode stepped in and held Louie’s hand. With the other hand on Louie’s shoulder, Rhode joined in supporting him during his final moments.

“He was unconscious. He was on a ventilator,” Rhodes says, “but he was not alone.”

Louie, a COVID-19 patient, at Holy Name Medical Center during the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jeff Rhode/Holy Name Medical Center)
Louie, a COVID-19 patient, at Holy Name Medical Center during the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jeff Rhode/Holy Name Medical Center)

In New Jersey, he says he doesn’t know of many other hospitals with a full-time photographer on staff. Most of his work leads to advertising or event coverage, but he decided his role needed to change amid the coronavirus crisis.

Photojournalists can’t easily document the pandemic because of both safety precautions and privacy laws, he says. He doesn’t reveal anyone’s identity without consent, he says.

Despite working in a COVID-19 hospital, Rhode says he tested negative for coronavirus antibodies. But he finds staying safe in the hospital challenging.

Rhode wears the same personal protective equipment as doctors and nurses but his role as a photographer presents a unique challenge. When he leaves a room, he has to change his gloves and decontaminate his gear before moving on.

“My cameras that I bring into a room will become contaminated and I'll be putting them up to my face perhaps several hundred times in that time frame,” he says.

Hospital staff comforts Louie. (Jeff Rhode/Holy Name Medical Center)
Hospital staff comforts Louie. (Jeff Rhode/Holy Name Medical Center)

When the coronavirus crisis ends, Rhode hopes to photograph patients who have successfully recovered from the virus and moved home. He also hopes to shoot the hospital’s recovery as it switches back to operating as a non-COVID-19 hospital.

“They're doing a full decontamination in the hospital, which is much different than anything I've ever seen,” he says. “The images will explain everything.”


Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku RayAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on May 12, 2020.

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