A Midnight Rescue, as COVID-19 Ran Rampant


May 2, 2020

As the coronavirus races through nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the country, many desperate family members are finding themselves unable to learn the truth about what’s happening inside.

So, some of them are taking matters into their own hands. 

That was the case with Natasha Roland — whose midnight rescue of her 82-year-old father from an assisted living facility in Queens, New York as COVID-19 was running rampant was the subject of a story and short film co-published by FRONTLINE and ProPublica this week.

In today’s new episode of our “Covering Coronavirus” podcast series, I speak with the reporter behind this story, ProPublica’s Joaquin Sapien, about why assisted living facilities and nursing homes are so susceptible to COVID-19 transmission, the challenges facing staff and residents, and Natasha’s harrowing description of finding her father near death from the disease, despite being told not long before that he was safe and there were no cases inside the facility.

“It was just impossible to listen to without feeling empathy and some degree of panic myself, knowing that this is probably going to happen to other people if we don’t shine a light on it,” Joaquin tells me.

The Queens Adult Care Center, for its part, disputes Roland’s account, and says it has taken “extensive precautions to ensure the well-being of each of its residents and employees.”

Joaquin first encountered the facility in reporting he did for FRONTLINE and ProPublica’s 2019 documentary, Right to Fail, about New York’s struggle to house people living with mental illness. Now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the home — which is only a block from Elmhurst Hospital, where lines of sick patients waiting outside recently made national news — is in an area that became “the epicenter of the epicenter in New York City,” Joaquin says.

“It was only a matter of time before it had its first case, and sadly, its first death,” he tells me of the center.

For the full story, listen to “Covering Coronavirus: A Midnight Rescue” from the FRONTLINE Dispatch. It’s available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, RadioPublic, Google Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

And, thank you so much to those of you who have made contributions to support the FRONTLINE Dispatch in these unprecedented times. As a reminder, donations are currently being matched dollar-for-dollar by a generous contribution from FRONTLINE donors Koo and Patricia Yuen.

Thank you for listening, and for your support.

Raney Aronson-Rath, Executive Producer, FRONTLINE



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