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Capturing the world of health care as doctors actually see it every day

The hospital docu-series follows physicians as they save lives, deliver babies, and care for patients in the ER.

Laura Bradley Entertainment Reporter. Published Jun. 11, 2020 4:39AM ET

Courtesy of Netflix

By sheer coincidence, Netflix’s Lenox Hill has arrived at just the right time. Directors Ruthie Shatz and Adi Barash began work on their docu-series, set in an acute care hospital in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, in 2017—long before the novel coronavirus thrust health-care workers into the spotlight. The eight-hour series follows four physicians doing their best to care for their community—delivering babies, removing brain tumors, and, sometimes, providing care to patients who need a hot meal and a safe place to sleep even more than immediate medical attention.

“It felt like an opportunity to really share with the world what we do on the inside,” John Boockvar, vice-chair of the hospital’s Department of Neurosurgery, told The Daily Beast of the series. “Obviously there’s a heightened awareness of it nowadays, but I look at this as an opportunity to share our experiences, to be role models, to really tell the truth and be transparent, and to be a sounding board against some of the fictionalized TV that we’ve seen in years past.” 

As COVID-19 spread across the globe, health-care workers put themselves on the line day after day. In cities across the world, nightly applause erupts from windows and balconies, as civilians recognize the risks doctors take each day. As the pandemic spread, Boockvar said, “Every department was foisted into the front line.” He began running clinical trials for medications, while his colleague and fellow Lenox Hillsubject, neurosurgery chair David Langer, volunteered at the temporary field hospital erected in the Jacob Javits Center while also seeing patients at the hospital.

“It came on like a hurricane,” Boockvar said. “The way I describe it, the virus was on one side of the door, trying to blow in, and you had every health-care worker on  the inside door pushing back.”

But the hospital is better for having fought this battle, Boockvar insists. Lenox Hill has been renovated, has more ICU beds, and now has a telemedicine infrastructure in place that did not exist eight weeks ago. “It’s cleaner, it’s more efficient, and frankly it’s better than it was before,” he said.

Capturing the world of health care as doctors actually see it every day can be difficult. And as Langer notes, the industry has, at times, “done a lousy job of showing what we do.” And while Lenox Hill could never have brought all corners of the hospital to screen, it does provide a focused, well-organized sliver. 

Some patients’ journeys stretch out across all eight episodes, while some urgent care patients show up, get the care they need, and are never seen again. And most importantly, Shatz and Barash chose their subjects wisely; each doctor has their own personality and motivation for being in the field. It’s fascinating, and at times thrilling, to see them each in their elements.

In addition to Boockvar and Langer,Lenox Hillalso shadows OB-GYN Amanda Little-Richardson and ER doctor Mirtha Macri, both of whom are managing their own pregnancies alongside their exhausting workloads. Macri’s patience and versatile skill set shine, making for one of the series’ most interesting stages. And Little-Richardson’s dedication to her work is both impressive and, at times, amusing; at one point she leaves her husband talking on speakerphone to an empty room as she attends to a patient’s alarm. As she manages her pregnancy, Little-Richardson is also planning a cross-country move to California.

From her first meeting with Shatz and Barash, Little-Richardson made clear that she wanted her story to highlight the lives of black people and women in medicine—populations she believes are under-represented both broadly and, specifically, in positions of power. “I also kind of wanted to highlight black families,” she told The Daily Beast, “because I am biased in saying this; I feel like I come from a great one. I really wanted to kind of show people different images of black real life.”

“Ruthie and Adi are probably two of the best people I’ve ever met,” Little-Richardson added of the series directors. “They’re very compassionate and kind people. And so I had complete trust in their filmmaking. I didn’t have fear that they were going to edit things to be salacious.”

Langer, meanwhile, is working to build out his neurosurgery department and make sure it’s properly supported. (Speaking to this duty, Langer quoted an old boss, who said, “When you’re a chairman, it’s like somebody comes in and takes a shit in your desk every day. Or vomits.”) And the entire neurosurgery team must make adjustments of their own as one of their colleagues battles cancer.

Beyond the coincidental timing of its release,Lenox Hill feels specifically tailored to this moment because of how it highlights the hospital’s relationship with its community. Little-Richardson discusses her outlook on health care as both a doctor and as a black woman who knows that black patients face statistically worse outcomes than their white counterparts. (As she found out during her pregnancy, her own daughter had genetic lesions—but now 15 months old, Little-Richardson confirms she is in good health and “growing like weeds.”) Macri, meanwhile, frequently treats patients dealing with housing and substance use issues; for those patients, she notes, the hospital can be something of a safe harbor. The series, at times, follows the doctors it shadows to their homes, capturing their family dynamics and highlighting the ways they keep their lives in order. And in each episode, Shatz and Barash treat each patient’s story with care—whether it’s a woman giving birth or a man having an unidentified growth treated on his posterior. 


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