The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced that a ProPublica short film, “Rescuing Her Father from an Assisted Living Facility in the Coronavirus Epicenter,” won a News & Documentary Emmy Award in the category of outstanding business, consumer or economic coverage. This is ProPublica’s first solo Emmy Award.
The project, co-published with Frontline, was produced by Katie Campbell and Joseph Singer, and it includes cinematography by freelance videographers Michael Werner and Hannes Hosp and additional photography by George Etheredge. The short film was accompanied by a harrowing story written by Joaquin Sapien about a daughter who rescued her father in the middle of the night from the Queens Adult Care Center in Elmhurst, Queens, which had become the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York at the beginning of the pandemic.
In recent years, ProPublica has written extensively about conditions inside adult homes, including the Queens Adult Care Center. When the pandemic arrived in New York, Natasha Roland, 35, said she was immediately concerned for her 82-year-old father, Willie Roland, who lived as an assisted living resident in the center. By late March, the facility’s neighborhood quickly ended up having one of the highest concentrations of coronavirus cases in the city. At that point, ProPublica later learned, the first resident at the home had already died. On April 2, 2020, ProPublica reported that workers and residents at the home were becoming ill with the coronavirus as residents wandered in and out without any personal protective equipment. Soon after, Sapien received a voicemail from Natasha Roland, who wanted to share her story of rescuing her father as he suffered coronavirus symptoms so severe, he could barely breathe.
Producing a film at the height of the pandemic was no small feat. The reporting team had to quickly develop safety protocols for filming in Elmhurst. And it had to figure out how best to film an interview with Roland, who was quarantined at home.
In order to tell the story, the team faced the enormous challenge of helping the audience see what was happening inside a facility that couldn’t be directly accessed. The team spent many hours filming exteriors of the facility and gathering archival material from inside the center, as well as cellphone footage and photos from Roland. With these various media, the team was able to reconstruct and piece together what was happening inside the facility and how Roland ultimately escaped with her father — saving his life.
This film and accompanying text story prompted the New York attorney general to look into allegations that the Queens Adult Care Center failed to protect residents from the deadly coronavirus and misled families about its spread.
In an interview, New York state Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz said she was troubled by what ProPublica reported. When she saw the ProPublica stories, she said she decided to take action, along with City Council member Daniel Dromm.
“The plight of those living in adult care centers during this crisis was highlighted in a recent article published by ProPublica, which focused on the perils faced by the residents at the Queens Adult Day Care Center,” the lawmakers wrote in their April 27, 2020, letter to the attorney general and the governor’s office.
Cruz said she received an update from the attorney general’s office on May 5, 2020, saying it was looking into the matter but would not provide specific details. At the time, a spokesperson for the attorney general would not confirm or deny a specific, active investigation into the Queens Adult Care Center, but said it had received hundreds of complaints related to COVID-19 inside nursing homes and adult care facilities across the state and is investigating many of them.
View a full list of nominees and winners here.