How Apple TV+’s ‘Five Days At Memorial’ Is An ‘Homage’ To Healthcare Workers

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sheri Fink, chronicling the impact of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath on a local hospital.

Although the series, like the book, focuses on Hurricane Katrina, one of the show’s stars says not only did healthcare workers’ heroic efforts around the globe during the pandemic make her want to take on the project, but that the show also salutes them.

“In so many ways, I think this was an homage,” actor Vera Farmiga (the Conjuring films, Bates Motel, The Departed), who plays “Dr. Anna Pou”, told me via Zoom video. “It’s kind of a tribute to our healthcare workers, our doctors, and nurses. It really gives the audience a perspective of what that role is like. These are extraordinary people.

“These are everyday people who have earned that title of heroes amongst us because of their sheer willingness to report, to work in times of catastrophe and disaster, and to uplift everyone, put others’ well-being before their own is just something to shine a spotlight on and to salute, I think, after these last few years of the pandemic.”

Cherry Jones (The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Succession, 24), who portrays ‘Susan Mulderick’, hopes the eight-episode limited series will drive people to support healthcare workers.

“I hope there’ll be lots of eyes out there that are reminded by this series that we as a people have got to start asking for funding and support for our healthcare workers because we’re losing droves of them by the day at a time when we only need more and more and more and more,” Jones said.

“My little county hospital had 800 people before the pandemic. Now on staff, there are 300 people. And this is a hospital that serves four counties. This series, it covers so many different issues, but certainly, that’s one of them. And that society cannot survive without superb healthcare.”

In playing a doctor dealing with a wide-scale crisis at a local hospital, Farmiga wanted to convey both the exhaustion and the flight-or-fight response and instincts that healthcare workers in those types of situations deal with.

“I think what was most important in my interpretation was to get into that mindset, to understand the dire straits, how abysmal the conditions were of the circumstances in that hospital that kind of just zapped their mental and emotional reserves in combination with just the mental, physical, emotional, spiritual exhaustion and the dementia of lack of sleep, all of it,” Vera said.

“But also the frustration of knowing that you are not getting help, that you have been abandoned. There is no plan. Nobody’s coming to rescue you. And then there will be certain people, based on your personality and your work ethic and who you are that will either click into fight or flight. And I was portraying a doctor and a woman who doesn’t run away from danger. She doesn’t run away from the fire. She runs towards it, and she’ll do her best to put it out.”

Jones’ character had a unique background which would help her be of service in dealing with the effects of Katrina as well.

“My character had been at that hospital for 30 years and had started there right out of school and had been an ICU nurse, and she was actually better prepared to be in the position she was in than anyone else in the hospital,” Cherry said.

“But it was an impossible position and a position that no one in their right mind would ever want to have to be in. But she, I think, looked at what they all would have called Baptist Memorial because that’s what the hospital had been before. It had been bought by a corporation. That was her family, that was her home, and she was fighting to save her family and her home. It was that personal to my character.”

For decades, diversity has been a key element of the corporate social responsibility agenda. Diversity in the workplace was touted as a valuable contributor to corporate prosperity, although progress toward true diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has been slow and largely ineffective for far too many enterprises. In the past two years, corporate America passionately and vociferously doubled down on its collective commitment to diversity, but whether that passion translated to greater opportunity for marginalized segments of the population remains in doubt.

Despite sustained talent shortages, amid strong job creation numbers, labor participation is stubbornly low. Millions of jobs remain unfilled today, two years into a pandemic, as the income divide widens and unemployment of the disenfranchised continues. What are we missing? What are organizations doing to address the demand for more diverse talent? How do we shape company cultures to cater to underrepresented talent and build a better, more equitable workforce?

Why Progress May Be Stalled

Educational trends, technology innovation, and traditional business practices can all hold employers back from making significant progress in building a more diverse workforce. Surprisingly, these factors represent the unexpected consequences of good intentions.

Education has long been considered the most effective means of moving up the economic ladder. There was a time when a high school diploma was a guaranteed passport to a good job and financial security. As our economy transitioned from the Industrial Age to the Information Age, however, college became the assumed prerequisite to success. Today, nearly two-thirds of high school graduates go on to college. Too many young people in the other 40%, who may have neither the means nor the inclination toward college, get left behind. Diminished funding for job training tracks means those students graduate with few prospects beyond low-wage employment.

Technology automation increases productivity. That’s a good thing. On the flip side, automation can eliminate jobs that do not require a four-year degree, such as mailroom, customer service, and clerical roles. Jobs like these, which served in the past as promising points of entry to good employment, all offered a career track with increased responsibilities. This translates to fewer opportunities to gain that all-important experience needed to make the move from starter jobs to career tracks.

Technology makes it easy for anyone to search for jobs online, but it can actually interfere with the ability of many applicants to get a job. The use of artificial intelligence in sourcing is designed to help employers quickly pinpoint likely candidates. It has a downside though. Any search for keywords relating to educational attainments and degrees omits many nontraditional and non-degreed applicants before recruiters even have the chance to consider them.

Business leaders represent the frontline in the push to substantially alter the makeup of the workforce through diversity, equity, and inclusion, yet many standard business policies and practices undermine efforts at change. For example, talent acquisition, when linked to a vendor management system (VMS), continues to focus on quantity over quality, driving specific service delivery expectations, such as time to fill a position. Candidate submission is typically required within a 24- to 72-hour window. Hiring practices like these do not foster a fair chance for employment of nontraditional candidates. With rigid delivery metrics, there may be little opportunity to spend time seeking out diverse candidates, which forces reactive hiring decisions and a default to first-available candidates.

Even when HR makes a concerted effort to identify diverse candidates, the focus is more likely on filling higher-level, higher-paying positions rather than looking at opportunities to shape the workforce at the point of entry. That translates to maintaining the status quo, which slows DEI progress.

Most concerning is the tendency of business leaders to view DEI as an HR priority rather than an enterprise priority and a strategic business imperative, with the funding and authority to enact meaningful change. If a DEI culture is not led at the executive level, with accountability for results, actions, and behaviors expected at every level, organizations will be hard-pressed to live up to their stated DEI commitments.