Underfunded and overworked. Buried in paperwork and hamstrung by regulations. Heroic efforts on a daily basis just to stay afloat.

These sorts of observations about the modern workplace apply to a broad spectrum, from police and fire departments to library workers and probation officers. In the documentary “Code Black,” the cry comes from emergency room doctors, which gives it a certain urgency, but it’s the same basic gripe.

“Code Black” is the term used by a hospital when its emergency room waiting room is packed. Which is a great deal of the time at Los Angeles County Hospital, one of the few hospitals in America that treats everyone who walks through the door — although it may be 24 hours before a doctor can get to you.

The film follows the hospital’s transition from an aged but spirited place where emergency medicine was more or less invented to a new building with more privacy and shinier halls, but where regulations that were waived at the old facility now have to be followed. Director/writer Ryan McGarry (a physician himself) follows a group of young doctors who’ve been drawn to emergency medicine, yet are frustrated with spending so much time filling out forms and so little time with patients.

Beginning with the battle zone set-up in the old hospital — patients lay bleeding and often expiring within inches of one another — McGarry effectively captures the controlled chaos of an emergency room, and some scenes are not for the faint of heart. This can be gory, soul-draining work.

But the docs seem happy enough dealing with trauma. It’s the frustration of seeing long lines of people waiting to be treated, and having to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops to treat them, that gets them down.

Unfortunately, like too many “problem” films, “Code Black” starts to repeat itself while offering up no real solutions. It sticks halos (probably well-deserved) atop the heads of its doctors, it goes for poignant moments without being all that poignant and ends up bemoaning without seriously suggesting any concrete paths to improvement. Yes, health care is messed up in this country: Now what?

“Code Black” (Not rated) This documentary about emergency room doctors struggling to help people at a county hospital captures the gory reality, but gets repetitive and offers no real solution. (78 minutes) GRADE: C+

‘Code Black’


Not rated

Running time: 78 minutes

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