By Donald Brown
12:27 PM PDT, September 25, 2012
Saturday, September 29, 7:30 p.m., The Ridgefield Playhouse, 80 East Ridge Ave., Ridgefield, CT; for Information/Tickets call (203) 438-5795; ridgefieldplayhouse.org
Called by The Village Voice “An ‘Inconvenient Truth’ for the healthcare debate,” Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare couldn’t be more timely. As the debates rage about efforts to extend health coverage in the U.S. to all citizens, this film argues that America must do much more to make healthcare worthwhile and effective. The film presses the point that U.S. healthcare is not truly about caring for the health of our citizens, but is rather a form of “disease management.” In other words, once there’s something wrong with you, our medical professionals can prescribe drugs and offer procedures to do something about it. But doctors who try to follow the old adage that “prevention is better than a cure” find themselves stymied by quotas for productivity, by incentives to be legal drug pushers, and by a system that is more often about making money than promoting health.
This award-winning documentary is produced and directed by Matt Heineman and Susan Froemke, both whom have worked on documentaries that invite strong viewer response. Froemke and Heineman want the film not only to offer critique of our existing medical condition, but to prescribe some possible behavioral modifications that could make our healthcare more health conscious. An interesting approach on that score is their attention to the U.S. Military. As one of the biggest “patients” that U.S. healthcare has, the Military, if not satisfied with results, becomes a major player for change. And, Heineman and Froemke report, the Military is losing patience.
Escape Fire builds its argument on case histories — the kind of human interest stories that are the basis for any consideration of how well medical treatment does or doesn’t work. One example is Sgt. Robert Yates, wounded during his service in Afghanistan, who becomes the test case for whether there are means of treatment other than an overwhelming battery of medications. The surprising fact that the U.S. Military has begun to advocate yoga, acupuncture and meditation indicates not only that such practices may in fact be preventive of health problems in the daily lives of civilians, but might also be cures for service-persons already suffering from serious medical conditions.
While it’s typical to hear patients grouse about their health and to belittle medicine when it doesn’t provide a cure-all, one of the film’s strengths is its attention not simply to the victims of bad healthcare but to those who are trying to change it from within. We hear from a number of medical professionals expressing deep discontentment with the way things are, and get insight into the problem through Erin Martin, M.D., and her efforts to increase patient contact time and to prescribe healthy choices rather than pills. Dr. Martin, along with Pamela Ross, M.D., and Richard Niemtzow, M.D., Ph.D., both featured in the film, will be present at the screening and Q&A. The views of committed practitioners contribute to the film’s sense of frustration with a system that is magnificent at turning a profit but delinquent at service. Rather than a Michael Moore-style indictment of greedy doctors, Escape Fire shows us how the system keeps doctors from doing the work they want to do.
Escape Fire takes its title from the forest-fire-fighting practice of creating a fire in the path of a wildfire to burn away its fuel. If U.S. healthcare is the wildfire that threatens to consume more and more of our Gross Domestic Product — up to 20 percent is projected — then, it’s suggested, the only way to stop it is to take away what’s feeding it. To that end, the film joins other recent documentaries, such as Supersize Me, in depicting how U.S. citizens create many of their own health problems, arguing that we must learn to manage our own health to avoid the kinds of ailments that pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies thrive on.
The screening is presented by the Ridgefield Playhouse Film Society and will be hosted by Morton Dean, Emmy-Award-winning television journalist; Dr. Mitchell Prywes of the Center for Pain Rehabilitation, and Victoria Veltri, JD, LLM, Health Advocate, State of Connecticut, will also take part in the panel discussion.