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The Providers (2018)

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Documentaries about health care providers are a genre unto themselves. In the last few years I can remember seeing The Waiting Room, Remote Area Medical, Nurses, Making Rounds, After Tiller...and now The Providers. 

The opening scene, set in New Mexico, shows a rural doctor visiting a patient at home. He is an alcoholic who, by his own admission, has been to rehab seven times. He has cigarettes for breakfast. He sits in front of a Confederate flag. "Are you mad at me?" he asks the doctor when some failure to follow direction or take care of himself is exposed. 

The doctor's not, but the audience might be. And, indeed, later in the film, other scenes frame more explicitly the lingering question of who deserves health care. A female doctor laments that were she to give up her practice, there would not be anyone in her area to treat addicts. Questions are raised about what the government (through Medicaid) and the medical profession consider to be a disease. As opioid addiction waxes, our energy wanes. 

As a Christian, the thing I admire most about the healthcare professions is there attempts to preserve the value of service for its own sake, irrespective of rank, color, creed, political orientation, or class. That's easy enough to affirm in the abstract--more money for Medicaid, I say. Universal health care as a goal. It's harder when you are looking at an actual person for whom you hold out little hope of transformation. I was reminded watching the film of Daryl Davis in Accidental Courtesy. From whence comes the reservoir of spirit to be patient when for most of us a single trolling Facebook crank is enough to test our resolution to be patient with those who cannot or will not help themselves and give little indication that they would reciprocate were their situations reversed?

Yes, that's reading a lot of assumptions into a Confederate Flag and an addiction to nicotine. And no, unlike Remote Area Medical, the film doesn't really lump the rural, underserved population into the same stereotypes. But to the extent that rural health care is a problem -- and everything I hear in the media is that it is -- it is surprising how little honest discussion goes into ways that motivation contributes to that problem. The Providers begins to address that issue. It shows us snippets of conversations. It shows the reality of rural providers being taxed beyond their resources and makes you understand why even those willing to fight on the front lines might leave after six months or a year for easier, greener pastures. 

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