Most recent polls show that health care is the number one concern of most Americans, ahead of the economy, immigration, the environment, gun violence, and other issues. Filmmakers Anna Moot-Levin and Laura Green travel to northern New Mexico to explore a critical aspect of the health-care crisis in the moving, almost elegiac The Providers, which is making its New York City premiere at the DOC NYC festival. Moot-Levin and Green, both the children of doctors, directed, produced, photographed, recorded the sound, and edited (with Chris Brown) the film, which follows three health-care workers as they deal with poor, underserved patients with empathy, compassion, and understanding in small rural towns. “My job is to try to keep you alive,” nurse practitioner Chris Ruge tells one patient. “Health care is a relationship,” explains physician assistant Matt Probst. And family physician Leslie Hayes points out that once she retires, there is no one to take over for her. Moot-Levin and Green spent one hundred days over three years in Las Vegas, Albuquerque, and Española in New Mexico, going behind the scenes as Ruge, Probst, and Hayes treat men, women, and children, including many adults suffering from alcoholism, opioid abuse, and other addictions. The three providers are part of the ECHO Care program at El Centro clinics, which allows them to see patients who have little or no money; they visit them in the hospital and make house calls, often stopping by just to check on how things are going. “There is so much beauty here. And there is so much pain,” Probst says.
The film also reveals how their dedication to their jobs impact their private lives; Ruge’s wife, nurse midwife Ann Ruge, complains that her husband cares more about his patients than about her, while Probst has to deal with an addicted father and troubled sister. When future funding for ECHO Care is in jeopardy, Chris Ruge notes, “If it ended, it would likely lead to the early death of a lot of our patients.” Another problem is where the next generation of health-care workers will come from to serve these indigent communities; Probst teaches physician assistant students at the University of New Mexico, where he hopes to find young men and women willing to stay local. “I want to go into the medical profession because this community is so far from medical help,” one student, Tiffany, says. The Providers is screening November 12 at IFC in the American Perspectives section of DOC NYC, with Moot-Levin participating in a Q&A after the film.