It’s hard to imagine people worthier of cinematic exposure than the subjects of Laura Green and Anna Moot-Levin’s documentary. Profiling three medical practitioners treating impoverished patients in rural New Mexico, The Providers delivers a deeply moving portrait of selflessness and dedication that feels particularly timely in this era of division between the red and blue states. Recently showcased at DOC NYC, the film should be essential viewing in medical schools pumping out highly paid specialists catering to the wealthy.
The providers of the title all work for El Centro, a network of New Mexico clinics covering a 22,000-square-mile area that treats patients regardless of their insurance or ability to pay. Onscreen graphics at the film’s beginning inform us that the region was in the top five for heroin overdoses in the country and that some 70,000 deaths occurred last year in rural areas due to lack of health care, representing 10 times the number of people killed in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Matt Probst is a health care practitioner who also serves as El Centro’s clinic medical director. We see him desperately struggling to cover empty shifts at the understaffed facility and attempting to recruit doctors. He also has a personal connection to the problems suffered by many of his patients; both his father and sister are addicted to opiates. During the course of the filming, his father dies of an overdose and his sister is arrested on fraud charges related to her addiction.
Chris Ruge, a former trucker, is a nurse practitioner who travels throughout the area treating indigent patients at their homes. We see him dealing with several, including an alcoholic man who suffers a near-fatal relapse and an elderly woman who begs him to increase the dosage of her pain medication.
Family physician Leslie Hayes is thinking about retirement after working more than two decades at the clinic. She worries about who will replace her even as she treats numerous patients dealing with addiction issues, including a young woman struggling to avoid taking drugs during her pregnancy.
The warm, caring interactions between the medical practitioners and their patients form the heart of the film. Some of the episodes are very painful to watch; it’s a credit to the filmmakers that they were able to capture such intimate, revealing moments as when Ruge’s alcoholic patient, clutching a bottle of vodka, asks in a pitiful voice, “You mad at me?” Ruge handles his strenuous duties at no small personal cost, as when his wife complains about his long periods away from home.
That a program such as the one spotlighted in the film even exists is heartening. But, of course, its existence is threatened by a potential loss of funding; a crisis that adds suspense to the final section. It becomes painfully clear that all the good intentions and dedication in the world aren’t enough if lives are measured only in dollars and cents.
Production: Stray Pony Productions
Directors-producers-directors of photography: Anna Moot-Levin, Laura Green
Executive producers: Jamie Meltzer, Lois Vossen, Sally Jo Fifer
Editors: Chris Brown, Laura Green, Anna Moot-Levin
Composer: Paul Brill
Venue: DOC NYC