Junction part of health care documentary to air on PBS

Grand Junction’s health care system will be the focus Feb. 16 when PBS stations nationwide air “U.S. Health Care: The Good News.”

The documentary explores health care systems in Grand Junction, Everett and Seattle, Wash., and Lebanon, N.H.

Producer and independent filmmaker Lisa Hartman of Denver-based Photopia Productions said she knew she wanted to make a documentary about health care even before the June 2009 release of a New Yorker article listing Grand Junction as the lowest-cost health care system in the United States, based on per capita Medicare costs. The press that followed about Grand Junction and other cities where health care costs remained low without cheating residents out of good care almost seemed a challenge to Hartman.

“We wanted to see how you did it,” she said. “There was so much written it was almost like, ‘Let’s see if everyone’s really doing what they say they’re doing.’ “

Hartman said she spoke with at least 30 doctors, former physicians, local historians, patients, medical professionals and insurance professionals in Grand Junction, and the story remained consistent.

“You have a lot of smart people in town who figured out early on if you were going to take care of a community, you had to take care of everyone,” Hartman said.

The health care systems in New Hampshire and Washington differed from the one in Grand Junction, Hartman said. All worked in a way that helped keep costs lower than in other cities and allowed physicians to provide better care and sometimes to see more patients.

Hartman said the crew members agreed they would like to see the systems they saw modeled in some way in their own communities. She hopes viewers feel that way, too.

“We spend $2.5 trillion of our economy on health care in this country, more than any other country in the world. I think everyone agrees we need to get that cost down,” she said. “The goal is for people to understand more about the system, so that they can get what they need. ...When people see local communities have made a decision to work together to provide quality care at a cost we can afford, they’ll want to do it, too.”

That doesn’t mean Grand Junction or the other cities have no room for growth, though.

“There is no place we found that’s perfect,” Hartman said.

Author and journalist T.R. Reid, Hartman’s neighbor, serves as correspondent for the documentary. Reid’s 2008 documentary for “Frontline,” called “Sick Around the World,” focused on health care systems in five countries.

The director of photography for “U.S. Health Care: The Good News” is Rich Lerner, another documentary veteran. Ted Winterburn, who has worked on documentaries for “Frontline,” edited the film.

Hartman and Reid will appear at a premiere for the documentary this winter in Grand Junction. Rocky Mountain PBS Manager Penny Mitchell said she is working on scheduling the premiere, which probably will be the week or a few weeks before the Feb. 16 air date, and it may take place at Colorado Mesa University.

“It’s wonderful,” Mitchell said of having a documentary featuring Grand Junction air nationwide. “I know Lisa spoke with and filmed a lot of people in town, so I’m anxious to see it.”

Some local faces likely to make cameos in the documentary include Dr. Charlie Wilson, Dr. Roger Shenkel and local historian Ron Weber.


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