Anyone who has ever been in the emergency room of an urban hospital will recognize the human drama on display in Peter Nicks’ award-winning documentary. The setting is Highland Hospital in Oakland, California, a public institution that absorbs a surplus of individuals that are mostly without healthcare insurance.

The painfully overcrowded waiting area requires more than a little patience – adults and children in various degrees of discomfort muster as much stoicism as possible during the extraordinarily lengthy period they are must endure before they are able to see a physician. The ebb and flow of emergency trauma cases inevitably delay the processing of patients, and the relatively small medical staff is constantly overwhelmed by the number of people seeking help – including many who cannot speak English or are unable to follow their relatively simple prescription drug regimens.

It is extremely depressing, to be certain, yet Nicks carefully avoids making obvious sociopolitical statements. However, the quiet complaints of patients about inadequate medical care and the rising expenses of procedures and prescriptions provide evidence that the system is in drastic need of overhauling. Needless to say, this hospital visit will sicken anyone who is upset over the state of American healthcare.

This DVD offers the original 82-minute version, which was shortlisted for the Best Documentary Oscar, and a streamlined 62-minute version. A special feature includes seven brief case studies from a patient-based “storytelling project” that was coordinated during the film’s production.

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