CODE BLACK (doc, 2014)


code black Greetings again from the darkness. Filmmaker/Doctor (an unusual combo) Ryan McGarry takes us behind the Emergency Room curtain at LA County General … one of the busiest ER departments in the country, with a waiting room filled with low income, uninsured people desperate for medical attention. So desperate that they will wait up to 18 hours to see a doctor.

We see live action sequences from C-Booth (Critical Booth) in the “old” Emergency Room prior to the opening of the shiny new facility next door. The footage is startling and quickly explains why so few doctors are cut out for this particular work. The workspace is limited and the most serious trauma cases are wheeled in with medical staff whirling around at full speed and full adrenaline. Life and death medical decisions must be made at a frantic pace, and each person must perform their role precisely during this operating ballet.

This initial C-Booth footage is not for the squeamish but sets the stage for the abrupt changes brought on by the new facility. Bureacracy and compliance put an immediate kibosh on the doctor/patient relationship. We know this because the doctors tell us. They now must spend the bulk of their time completing paperwork rather than seeing patients.

We hear directly from a group of interns and we admire their passion for medicine and healing. Still, the apparent bashing of a business-first approach and compliance-heavy process highlight the real world inexperience of these young docs. Unfortunately, very few of the veteran doctors have much to say on camera and instead, director/doctor McGarry guides us through his words and eyes in hopes of creating empathy for his “I just want to help people” devotion.

The C-Booth footage is fascinating and reminds us that “M*A*S*H” was purely entertainment and “Grey’s Anatomy” probably doesn’t even deserve to be called a medical drama. Where the film falters is in not contrasting the LA County General process with that of the suburban facilities that deal almost exclusively with the insured populace. That seems to be a much more interesting comparison than old school crash cart trauma with no tracking to the new world of hospital compliance.

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