A Lens on Health

I was fortunate enough to attend a screening last week of  The Waiting Room, a unique lens on public health and our current health system.

The screening was part of the Center for Health, Media and Policy’s ongoing Health in Film & New Media Series series; it was was one of the best films I have seen about health, about people, about hopes and dreams in the inner city.

Director Peter Nicks conducted interviews with dozens of patients and staff in the Emergency Department of Highland Hospital in Oakland, CA. He gathers a rather sobering portrait of safety net health care and those that would fall through the cracks without it. Overworked and sometimes exhausted doctors and nurses care for anyone that needs it in this understaffed and overcrowded ED.

The hospital’s waiting room holds dozens of stories. The ones that patients want tell to the intake nurse, to the doctors, to the camera, to the stranger sitting next to them. The waiting room is a place of last resort for the Hell’s Angel, the newly unemployed executive, the drug addict, the displaced blue collar worker, who wait for care and hope to be treated as more than just a number.

This is not some reality TV show. This is life as it happens at Highland – and at countless other public hospitals like it around the country. It’s the dedication, perseverance and positive attitudes of the ED staff that keeps patients moving through the waiting room and also ties the film together. The Waiting Room is part documentary, part social media, and part community engagement project that brings a unique focus to needs of the uninsured.

The Waiting Room launches a dialogue on our nation’s health care system; the give and take  continues through hyper-local video blogs, opportunities for others to tell their stories, and a reality check about health care and the underserved for stakeholders. Eventually, Nicks hopes to expand the story to more health facilities around the country.

The film is scheduled to air on PBS’s Independent Lens next year. It  is also a contender for selection in one of the major 2012 film festivals. In the meantime many of the stories are posted on the website “whateuwaitingfor.com“.

I almost never recommend films. This one gets 5 stars. What are you waiting for? Click here.

still photos courtesy of The Waiting Room photostream

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