Health Care on Human Terms: Oakland's Highland Hospital in The Waiting Room

The Waiting Room

Medical professionals at Oakland's Highland Hospital emergency department see about 80,000 patients a year. The hospital also has northern Alameda County's main trauma center, so during the year, more than 2,200 severely injured patients go there, whether they have health insurance or not. Documentary filmmaker Pete Nicks' wife works as a speech pathologist at the hospital, so for years he heard stories about the patients at Highland. He wanted to make a film where the voices of the uninsured would be heard. The finished product is The Waiting Room, which screens this week at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

The film tells the stories of patients including a financially strapped carpet layer with bone spurs, a young man with a testicular tumor, and a child who has a high fever and can't talk. Along with the film, Nicks also created a website that includes more stories from the hospital, and he plans to make it interactive so patients to share their experiences.

Nicks talked with us about getting access to the hospital, the power of asking people to tell their tales, and the amazing staff at Highland.

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