Healthcare, as observed through the 24-hour timespan of the emergency room in Oakland, California. Through the eyes of those in the film: physicians, nurses, other support staff, and patients, we see how the system operates and does not readily work. In response, we see how the staff members seek to navigate the broken system to the best of their ability to better their patients’ health.
After watching the film I realized that it addressed some concerning but large problems facing American health care.
What unites the main characters of this documentary is the fact that none of them can afford health insurance and are in the emergency room because they have no other place to go to receive care. Most people without insurance can only be seen in the emergency room and as a result this means that many will have to wait long periods of time to receive medical care. One of the doctors in the film explained that the emergency room is, more often than not, the only option for those without insurance to see a specialist which is the reason these cases are not constituted as an emergency, but are still important nonetheless.
We also see how emergency rooms like Highland Hospital are playing the role of primary care physicians as many uninsured patients go to the ER on a regular basis to get their medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic diseases. This fundamentally adjusts the quality of an emergency ward, turning a facility that is proposed to treat the most serious circumstances into what is essentially a typical waiting room.
The film is irrefutably dismal, yet additionally shockingly inspiring because what the director captures during this film is the truly bare side of humans with nowhere else to go. There is no preaching to the viewers by the filmmakers. Instead, viewers are permitted to form their own opinions and conclusions about what they see and hear about the struggles of these desperately ill individuals. They also get to view the calm and comforting treatment of doctors and support staff who understand that only little can be done within the emergency room. Nothing is overly exaggerated during this film; only the raw emotions of the patients and staff were displayed.
I was moved by and admired the hardworking hospital staff who constantly tried to perform miracles in order to keep patients content with a clearly faltering system. While watching this documentary I contemplated a scenario where I was confronted with a devastating disease while I was uninsured. What if I faced a devastating illness while I was uninsured? What would I do if I didn’t have the chance to have health insurance and access to a primary care physician when needed? The responses of many of the main characters in the film revealed the answers to my posed questions. The fear that comes when necessary and adequate care is denied due to one’s lack of insurance. The growing anguish of those who come to the emergency room and then wait for hours while hoping to receive care by the end of the day.
Worrying about the mounting costs of medical treatment and little follow-up care being given due to the lack of insurance. There is no obvious political message evident within this documentary. Instead, the film encourages us to see the faces of those who may not be acknowledged otherwise in spite of dealing with a broken system. It urges us to understand the complexity of our healthcare system and raises many questions about how to handle the challenges that come with getting medical care to those who are uninsured.
This film can be seen as both a disappointing prosecution of a system that prioritizes helping someone based on their insurance and, at the same time, inspirational, due to the hard work of the extraordinary individuals who keep it going. The “Waiting Room” shows the faces of the individuals who are in urgent need of help and the caregivers who strive to help them. Although this documentary follows those who work in the emergency room at Highland Hospital it is disheartening to know that the same bleak certainty occurs in emergency rooms all across the country. What is left to examine at the end of the ER shift, is the compassion and sympathy possessed by those who have witnessed the many humans suffering from an unbearable system and the daily heroism of the doctors that try to work the system as best they can.