The NBC medical drama New Amsterdam can claim a dubious honor: having almost predicted the devastating effects of coronavirus. Fans may remember that the show had planned an episode that looked at a pandemic breaking out in New York, but pulled it over concerns it was inappropriate given what's currently happening in the world and after people in the show's crew — including recurring star Daniel Dae Kim — actually contracted COVID-19.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the first or only time the show has been completely on point with respect to structural problems in health care. Particularly in Season 2, New Amsterdam hammered home the numerous ways the American medical system is cracking and failing to properly serve people who need care and compassion.
Heroes Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold) and Dr. Helen Sharpe (Freema Agyeman) especially have been excellent proxies for understanding how for-profit hospitals and insurance companies can make patient wellness a lower priority than money or suffocating rules; they have been, like so many health care workers currently on the front lines of the pandemic, selfless champions for people too sick or too exhausted to fight for themselves while also being tender to folks in need of TLC.
As we all look for ways to salute and support doctors, nurses and medical practitioners risking their own lives to fulfill their oaths, here's a look back at some of the ways New Amsterdam showed us some of the giant obstacles these godsends are up against every day.
1. Max gets creative for a patient who can't afford insulin (Episode 201, "Your Turn"). In the first episode of the season, Max meets a patient who gets sick because she's been rationing her insulin, which is too expensive. Then he gets the novel, somewhat radical idea of making it himself on site — a wild but not altogether misguided idea, since it forces the hand of the hospital and the drug maker to reach a compromise. With more than a quarter of people with diabetes unable to afford insulin, this storyline was about as real as it gets.
2. Dr. Sharpe and Dr. Bloom (Janet Montgomery) learn that a patient was being poisoned by a hip replacement (Episode 203, "Replacement"). Sadly, this story is all too real, too. Bloomberg reported in 2019 that Johnson & Johnson spent roughly $1 billion to settle lawsuits over artificial hips like the one in this episode, and that's just one example of patients getting troublesome implants; CBS reported on patients getting counterfeit screws in a billion dollar back surgery scam too. Sharpe and Bloom stand up to manufacturers, but thousands of patients aren't as lucky to have such fierce advocates.
3. In an especially heartbreaking episode, Max vows to stop doing videos for patients who use social media to raise money for high deductibles (Episode 17, "Liftoff"). Nobody needs reminding that many people are turning to GoFundMe to pay medical bills; this episode showed Max's justifiable frustration at seeing people having to, as he put it, pay for their care with dignity.
4. Dr. Sharpe risks her career to help a woman in pain (Episode 208, "What the Heart Wants") Thorny, complicated issues over addiction vs. treatment came to light in "What the Heart Wants," when Sharpe actually takes a woman in pain from chemo to a heroin den where she can shoot up safely. The patient's medication wasn't working, and she'd been using heroin to deal with the pain; Sharpe chose a lesser of two evils that mirrors what so many people are going through in the midst of a national reckoning over prescription painkillers and access to them.
5. Max comes up with an innovative program to reach an at-risk group the system isn't serving (Episode 204, "The Denominator"). COVID-19 has laid bare how people of color are the hardest hit by severe illnesses and chronic conditions, but way before the pandemic, New Amsterdam addressed this, too. When Max goes out for a stroll and then stops for a game of friendly basketball, he watches as a man collapses and then helps him get care. Hypertension, which African Americans are at significantly higher risk for, was the cause and Max is moved to create an innovative program that engages black men at a barbershop. Max meets resistance at the hospital for turning untrained civilians into health practitioners, illuminating the huge hurdles the medical community has to overcome in orchestrating preventative care — and the prevalent distrust of institutions in communities of color.
These are but a few examples of the ways New Amsterdam shined a light on important issues; we can only imagine it's going to continue doing so in the future three seasons for which it's already been renewed.
New Amsterdam aired its last episode of Season 2 on April 14; episodes are streaming on Hulu.