At Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey, Lidia met Michele Acito, the chief nursing officer who, during the COVID-19 pandemic, was overseeing five emergency ICUs to accommodate the flood of patients. Also on the front lines is Jeff Rhode, the hospital staff photographer who is documenting it all. When the number of COVID-19 patients coming into the hospital exceeded capacity, everybody, from nurses to janitors, contributed in some way to construct a 36-bed ICU on the premises, in just five days.
Watch as Michele and Jeff describe to Lidia what it was like at the Hospital, during a surge in the COVID pandemic.
Meet Michele Acito, Chief Nursing Officer at Holy Name Medical Center
Michele Acito (left) overseeing a busy ICU during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Jeff Rhode / Holy Name Medical Center
“Nursing requires a skill set of compassion and taking care of the human body. We have to use technology, equipment, medicine, and we have to understand the body. It is demanding and rewarding. Critical care in the ICU is like nothing else. [During the COVID-19 Pandemic,] we were working 12-hour shifts. It was exhausting just to get dressed in all the PPE. There was a near-constant code blue rapid response alert; there were so many. Nothing prepares you for that. There is no playbook.” – Michele Acito
Nurses working at Holy Name Medical Center, Teaneck, NJ. Photo: Jeff Rhode / Holy Name Medical Center
“I’ve always been proud of the nurses at Holy Name, but never more proud than at this time in my life because of the way they stepped up; they knew that they had a responsibility. They put themselves at risk every day coming here. They put their families at risk every day going home. And yet they came back every day to do what needed to be done for every single patient.” – Michele Acito
Hospital employee at Holy Name Medical Center, in full PPE. Photo: Jeff Rhode / Holy Name Medical Center
“We’ve seen a few silver linings, and the people stepping up and wanting to go to nursing school is certainly one of them. Some nurses that we asked to work in the ICU, who did not come from the ICU, are now transferring to that department: another silver lining. In the past, they may not have been willing to challenge themselves or maybe they thought they couldn’t do it, and now they’ve realized that they are up for the challenge, that they can do it. This is only going to increase the amount of care that we can give to our critically ill patients.” – Michele Acito
Meet Jeff Rhode, Staff Photographer at Holy Name Medical Center
Staff photographer at Holy Name Medical Center, Jeff Rhode, behind the camera. Photo: Jeff Rhode / Holy Name Medical Center
“Jeff Rhode is an amazing person. He, if anyone, could’ve easily said, “Let me know when it’s over and I’ll come back to work.” Instead, he grabbed every camera, every lens and he followed every event. He put himself at risk, just like everyone else.” – Michele Acito
Staff at Holy Name Medical Center assist a patient so he can zoom with his family. Photo: Jeff Rhode / Holy Name Medical Center
“When COVID-19 struck my role changed and I was now documenting everything that was going on inside the hospital. It was a much more intimate method of photography. I was much closer with patients than I had ever been. I was much closer with the staff than I had ever been.” – Jeff Rhode
Staff at Holy Neck Medical Center hold the hands of a COVID patient. Photo: Jeff Rhode / Holy Name Medical Center
“The ICU space was full of patients, and it was challenging emotionally to walk inside. Looking in the window was upsetting. Walking through the middle of it was very emotional. Everybody was intubated which would mean they were unconscious. There was a tremendous sense of comradery between everybody and I don’t think it was just between the staff. It was between the staff and the patients. Everybody. We’re all trying to get through it together.” – Jeff Rhode
COVID patient Steven Tyndal looks out from his makeshift isolated room at Holy Name Medical Center. Photo: Jeff Rhode / Holy Name Medical Center
“For safety reasons visitors were not allowed in the hospital. Family members were not allowed. Inside there were just patients and employees. When the patient needed something, they didn’t have a family member to rely on. If they needed advice they often didn’t have a family member to ask. A lot of us, a lot of the staff, sort of stepped in as a surrogate family member and we would help out in any way we could.” – Jeff Rhode
A COVID-19 patient is released from the hospital after a long stay. Photo: Jeff Rhode / Holy Name Medical Center
“Every time a patient was discharged they would play the song from the movie ‘Rudy’ over the speakers in the hospital. It was great because, no matter where you were, if you heard that song, you knew someone was going home. We all needed that. This experience has shown me that there’s a level of compassion that exists in this hospital that is just amazing. Every patient is cared for in a way that just kind of blows me away. Everyone was there, despite the risks. I’m not saying staff weren’t careful because everyone was extremely careful, but they still showed this level of compassion for a stranger at their hour of need.” – Jeff Rhode
Scroll through a gallery of jeff Rhode’s photographs from his series ‘Faces of the Pandemic’.
“When I was photographing the ‘Faces of the Front Lines’ you could see that the employees were very tired. Most of us were working 15 or 18 hours a day. Most of us, after a week passed, had all worked a full week, and after two weeks passed we had all worked two weeks. None of us were taking days off. Everyone was just exhausted. And you could read that. You could see it on their faces.” – Jeff Rhode