The current healthcare debacle in this country has produced a myriad of heated debates between divided factions, but precious little in the way of an actual course of action to cure the problems. Director Ryan McGarry’s documentary Code Black is an effective addition to the discussion, arguing that those closest to patients, the doctors, should be at the forefront of designing a course of action to better their care. The film uses the legendary LA County Hospital system to explore the history and current trajectory of healthcare successes and failures in America. Simply put, emergency trauma care pre-HIPAA was a symphony of organized chaos. Doctors and nurses swarmed patients on gurneys with little more than a curtain separating one gunshot patient from another car crash survivor. The old LA County building was the Wild West, and the young doctors that populated it were eager cowboys embarking on one of the most exhilarating fields of medicine, and one that required direct contact with patients. When a new LA County Hospital was built to comply with new earthquake zoning laws, the gritty, adrenaline-fueled C-booth (as the old trauma unit was called) was replaced by a sterile, sprawling maze of white rooms wrapped in HIPAA red tape.
It’s the perspective of the doctors that really makes Code Black an interesting film. The argument is so often patient against insurance company and the hapless doctors who are at the mercy of inefficient bureaucracy. It’s easy to forget that most doctors enter the field because they want to help people. But the system rarely allows them do just that without a fight. McGarry’s interviews with the young doctors show their zeal, and lets the audience empathize with them as fellow human beings. They are genuine, and when they can, they attempt to develop solutions that will elevate their patients’ level of care.
McGarry’s editing and use of footage from the old C-booth trauma unit in conjunction with the pristine halls of the new LA County are also effective at portraying how much has changed in a relatively short time. While new healthcare laws have made patient care extremely difficult in many cases, the film also acknowledges that they have a place in making sure that patients are afforded a certain level of dignity and privacy that was lacking in the early days of C-booth. Nobody wants to view the remains of their dead mother next to a psychopath screaming obscenities. Above all, the dichotomy shown in the film argues that a happy medium between the two worlds is the ideal, and doctors are an important key to meeting that ideal. They just need the support from the rest of the healthcare juggernaut to make it happen.
Code Black shows doctors that are clearly tired, but not ready to give up the fight if it means that one day a system will exist that benefits all players in the healthcare game. An important reminder for the next time you find yourself in a waiting room.