Independent Lens: The Waiting Room

About This Episode


A poignant blend of humor and drama, The Waiting Room is an intimate look behind the doors of a California hospital’s overtaxed emergency room. The primary care center for 90,000 patients per year of nearly every nationality, race, and religion, with 250 mostly uninsured patients crowding its emergency room every day, Oakland’s Highland Hospital is a safety-net facility fighting for survival while weathering the storm of a persistent economic downturn. The film offers an unprecedented glimpse at how patients, staff, and caregivers cope with disease, bureaucracy, frustration, hope, and hard choices during one typically hectic day.

The documentary weaves together several stories from hundreds played out in the waiting room: a frightened child with a dangerous case of strep throat; a young man with a testicular tumor in desperate need of surgery; as well as those suffering from chronic conditions such as alcohol and drug abuse, heart disease, and diabetes. We also meet the overwhelmed hospital staff who cope with under-staffing, insufficient beds, and a never-ending stream of ER patients eager to jump to the head of the line. As one doctor says, Highland is “the institution of last resort for so many people.”