Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Even-handed Waiting Room's criticism of health care implicit

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THIS documentary day-in-the-life-of-an-emergency room comes in high contrast to Michael Moore's 2007 polemic exposé Sicko, another critique of the failing health-care system in the United States.

In The Waiting Room, the criticism is implicit. The only voices we hear are from the patients, doctors and staff of Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif., where the poor, the desperate and the uninsured stream in for treatment of everything from strep throat to gunshot wounds.

The film's 24-hour period is illusory. In fact, the film was shot over many weeks by Peter Nicks, who nevertheless had extraordinary access to the hospital's inner workings.

There are sad stories here, including one unemployed dad's touching concern for his sick daughter, exacerbated by the loss of a child years earlier. Inevitably, there are gunshot victims whose presence demands all-out team effort from the staff (and a longer waiting period for patients in the waiting room contending with less serious issues).

The film is so even-handed in its portrayal of the medical system at work that it lacks a certain context. Suffice it to say that it was released in the U.S. in November during a presidential election campaign in which Republican nominee Mitt Romney was threatening to scrap "Obamacare," reasoning that emergency rooms were sufficient to deal with uninsured patients.

If nothing else, this sad, poignant and occasionally disturbing doc offers an explanation why that attitude toward health care probably helped Romney lose the election.

Following today's 2 p.m. screening, a panel of local medical providers and critics will discuss the issues raised in the film. The panel includes moderator Dr. Joel Kettner, former provincial chief medical officer of health, Dr. Anne Durcan from the Mount Carmel Clinic, Arthur Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, and Robert Chernomas, professor of economics at the University of Manitoba.

The Waiting Room

Directed by Peter Nicks

Cinematheque

14A

81 minutes

3 stars out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2013 G6

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