Peter Nicks, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and director of “The Waiting Room,” notes that many people without insurance are normal Americans who've struggled through hard times or bad luck. What sparked Nicks' interest in the topic were the stories that his wife, who worked in Highland Hospital, would bring home. Nicks and his crew armed himself with a simple question: "What are you waiting for?"
"We really wanted to frame our questions to the folks in the waiting rooming a way that elicited their stories, and allowed them an opportunity to share whatever they wanted to share," Nicks says.
The documentary features no statistics, no graphs, no talking heads. Instead, it keeps the focus entirely on the people in that particular waiting room, forcing the audience to sit down and take a number. While some people wanted to give their opinion on the healthcare debate, many simply wanted to share their stories.
While shooting, the crew found that many people who lacked insurance were using the emergency room as their primary care physicians. "It was that tension between the people seeking very low-acuity primary care and people who have true emergencies that we found fascinating," Nicks says. Patients who are waiting for routine or less urgent care will be relegated to the bottom of the list if a victim of a gunshot wound is rushed in to the ER. Seven, eight, or nine hours of waiting is the price that the uninsured pay.
One man, a father of a seven-year-old, talked about the effects of unemployment, a major American problem, on health insurance: "One of the things that leads to that is underemployment. If you're underemployed then you're underinsured, and if you're underinsured you don't go get checked. By the time you do go get checked, you're really sick. A universal health plan, depending on how it would be structured, would hopefully allow us the ability to go get checked."
Nicks emphasized the political neutrality of his work: "We wanted to do that in a way that we weren't making a political statement as directors of the film. We just wanted to give the audience that experience of navigating life day-to-day without health insurance."