Sunday, December 02, 2012

"The Waiting Room": A public hospital emergency room, in real time, treating uninsured patients


The Waiting Room” (2012), directed by Peter Nicks, is a 24-hour snapshot of an emergency department at Highland Hospital in Oakland, CA.  The docudrama focuses the progress of about five patients, all indigent and without adequate insurance.  In that time period, it has to keep track of 241 patients.

We first see the field through the eyes of staff, especially a kindly young male nurse. 

The staff makes the point that it cannot treat walk-ins on a “first come first served” basis; it has to handle the trauma or life-threatening cases first.  And it cannot make room for more patients until it can cleanly discharge those it has already treated.  One overweight drug addict can not be turned loose in the streets with zero money, so someone else doesn’t get seen as soon.

One of the most curious patients an attractive young male, about 25, who may have testicular cancer, but cannot get the operation yet because of no insurance. He has stored his sperm (and apparently spent money) so that his girl friend could be inseminated if it turns out he cannot have children.  It’s interesting to me, because at that age I had given zero thought to the idea of having my own biological children.

One small girl is treated for tonsillitis and a strep throat.  Another man, about 40, has intractable back pain and can’t afford the surgery, and has been forced to work for less (laying carpet) because of his boss can hire illegal aliens for less. 

One person brought in dies of a gunshot wound on camera.

I saw this Sunday afternoon at the Landmark E Street theater, before a small crowd, and the film is quite riveting.

I kept thinking, if we had universal mandatory insurance, even with a semi-private system like Switzerland’s or Germany’s, health care (or “Obamacare”) would no longer be controversial (for “those Republicans”).

The official site for the film is here

The film is distributed by Open Hood, IVTS, and PBS Independent Lens.  It is likely to be shown soon on PBS.


 For today’s short film, try Todd Bartoo’s “Coffee” (10 min).  A gay couple and straight couple  each get a taste of accidental speed dating, concurrently. (I know of a script in Minneapolis, “I Hate Speed Dating”).   

Wikipedia attribution link for night picture of Oakland. I stayed in a motel near here in October 2000 when I went to an SLDN event on a Bay island. You can see some of this from BART.

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