In his vivid and thought-provoking filmmaking debut, physician Ryan McGarry gives us unprecedented access to America’s busiest Emergency Department. Amidst real life-and-death situations, McGarry follows a dedicated team of charismatic, young doctors-in-training as they wrestle openly with both their ideals and with the realities of saving lives in a complex and overburdened system. Their training ground and source of inspiration is “C-Booth,” Los Angeles County Hospital’s legendary trauma bay, the birthplace of Emergency Medicine, where “more people have died and more people have been saved than in any other square footage in the United States.” Code Black offers a tense, doctor’s-eye view, right into the heart of the healthcare debate – bringing us face to face with America’s only 24/7 safety net.
I’ll admit: when the film started, I was more struck by the parade of (mostly) photogenic doctors being interviewed and the descriptions they provided of why they wanted to become doctors than anything else. That’s to the film’s benefit. As the film progresses, and starts delving into more serious issues, that connection to the young doctors who make up the Los Angeles County Hospital’s trauma bay helps stress the difficulties they face in modern medicine.
While the film largely avoids tackling the more overtly political healthcare debate that’s raging in this country, it does touch on issues that didn’t exist in medical care decades ago, ranging from an increasing amount of required documentation to concerns about lawsuits.
What I found particularly fascinating is the documentary’s case that the move to a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility actually inhibited care in a way that didn’t exist in the hospital’s previous building. The case, in a nutshell: in the older hospital, space was at such a premium that doctors were forced to see everything going on in the trauma bay. In the newer hospital, where there’s more space, it’s harder to keep track of the influx of patients, and harder for everyone involved to stay in constant contact with each other.
Code Black is an eye-opening documentary about the modern healthcare system. Fair warning: because of the nature of the setting of the documentary, there are some visuals that may be disturbing to viewers, though some of the stories told should prove more disturbing.