Who has not been to a hospital emergency room, either as a patient or as companion to a patient? I think I have been twice as a patient: once when I hit my head with a hammer trying to pull a nail and another time when I popped my knee out of joint. Both times were minor emergencies when I could not wait for a doctor's office hours. Emergency rooms are created for such times, but that is not what we see in the documentary The Waiting Room (2012) directed by Peter Nicks.
The Waiting Room was filmed at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California over a 24-hour period in 2011 or possibly 2010. On the DVD cover below the title is the statement "24 hours. 241 patients. One stretched ER." Of all those patients, several were victims of accidents and violent crimes, but most were people without health insurance trying to obtain treatments that they were unable to procure from general practitioners or the specialists to whom they would have been referred if they had health plans. Without appointments, those without life threatening conditions sometimes waited many hours to be seen by the physicians and nurses of the hospital ER. The waiting room was large and crowded.
Unlike many documentaries, The Waiting Room has no explanatory narration. One film reviewer says film viewers are "like flies on the wall." Another said that the film was true cinema verite. In an interview, the directory said that he wanted to show exactly what happens in an urban county hospital emergency room and let viewers decide what it all means. He also indicated that policy wonks from opposite ends of the political spectrum have praised the film as evidence for their positions.
Attendance at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library's showing of The Waiting Room for its film discussion was small, but our discussion was lively and somewhat personal. There was empathy for the patients followed by the filmmaker's cameras and admiration for the hospital staff. Discussion trended toward national health care policy, of course, and were left with a series of timely questions:
"Has the launch of the Affordable Health Care Act relieved any of the stress on urban emergency rooms? Is The Waiting Room now an out-of-date film?" Time to ask a librarian.
Nicks, Peter. The Waiting Room. Cinedigm Entertainment Corp., 2013. 80 minutes. OCLC: 856022442.