Dose of reality: Medical reality series is filmed in Fresno-area hospitals

October 12, 2009 

Lillian Baronian only expected to see a doctor at Community Regional Medical Center’s emergency room after she fell and hurt her shoulder. She got that and more.

Baronian ended up facing TV cameras filming the nationally syndicated series “Healthcare Heroes.” The series, seen locally at 5 p.m. Sundays on KFSN (Channel 30.1), is filmed on location at Community in downtown Fresno, the Fresno Heart & Surgical Hospital and Clovis Community Medical Center.

Single episodes of series like “Cops” and “Trauma: Life in the ER” have been filmed in Fresno, but this is the first TV series to be shot entirely here.

“We will end up shooting 18 episodes and each one will air three times,” Matthew Glasser, “Healthcare Heroes” executive producer, says on the last day of a week of shooting enough material to edit into 3-4 episodes. They will be back in 4-6 weeks for another round.

Glasser says Fresno is “a natural fit” because Community Regional Medical Center is a “microcosm for the health system in general around the country.” It offers so many services, it was “one-stop shopping for a television show about health care.”

Only staff and patients who agree to be filmed go in front of the cameras.

Each episode has three segments that cover different medical procedures: heart surgery, brain surgery, births and even something as common as a shoulder sprain. It’s not the medical procedure that’s the focus, but the doctors, nurses and staff who tend to patients.

Nurse Mary Sievers, a Minnesota native who has worked at Community for two years, is taking care of Baronian. Both nurse and patient pay little attention to the camera.

Sievers says that when the charge nurse asked whether anyone was willing to be filmed, she said, “Why not?” After all, Community has been producing the local series “MedWatch” there for years.

“You would think the cameras would be a distraction,” says “Healthcare Heroes” creative director Marc Prescott. “But we have found that actually when the cameras are in the room, everyone brings their A-game. We want to do a study to see if there is any difference between the health care for patients who have been filmed and those who haven’t been.”

The small crew from the San Diego-based production company works hard to be as inconspicuous as possible. Karen Kelly is the lone photographer and also handles audio recordings. Before Sievers begins her work with patients, Kelly fits her with a remote microphone. Prescott and Glasser will grab a second camera if the action gets too hectic for Kelly.

This spartan approach to filming comes from the television backgrounds of the three-person crew who worked in San Diego TV news before moving to Internet and TV production.

InteReality Media LLC’s first product, “The Nurse Show,” started out online but became a syndicated TV series last year. “Healthcare Heroes” is an expanded version of that show.

“We found out that the stations that bought the series wanted to be able to advertise to doctors. So the station managers were happy when we expanded the program this year,” Glasser says.

“Healthcare Heroes” has been sold to TV stations in 78% of U.S. markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco. The national exposure was a major reason Community agreed to the project.

John Zelezny, Community’s senior vice president of communications, says the series is a valuable recruiting tool to lure health-care experts to Fresno, and a great promotion for the city. Community is the second largest Level One emergency center in California with more than 100,000 patients seen there every year.

As to the financial agreement between the hospital and production company, Zelezny would only say “we will be partners in the success but the money was not a driving force in us doing the show. “The show’s extremely educational. A lot of medicine tends to be mysterious. If this show reduces the mystery and increases the understanding of medicine, it is highly valuable.”

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at rbentley@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6355.

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