Support project and film Breaking the wall of silence

Breaking the Wall of Silence Documentary by Citygate Films


A film about the quest to break through healthcare’s wall of silence surrounding medical errors in order to improve patient safety.

Launched: Mar 1, 2013 Funding ends: Mar 31, 2013

Patty Skolnik lost her only son to complications from unnecessary brain surgery by a doctor who had previously been sued for malpractice in another state. He suffered for 32 months before dying with his parents at his side. Carole Hemmelgarn watched as her nine-year-old daughter died of sepsis from a hospital-acquired infection, while the doctors ignored all the warning signs and ignored Carole’s pleas for help. Helen Haskell’s teenage son underwent elective surgery and then bled to death for more than 30 hours while his doctors and nurses overlooked the signs he was in danger. These mothers are among the estimated 100,000 people each year whose loved ones die or suffer injuries as a result of preventable medical mistakes. But most patients and their families don’t even know they have been victims of a high-risk industry that uses little to none of the safeguards routinely used in other high-risk industries, such as aviation. They don’t have this information because when medical errors occur, they are typically guarded behind a wall of silence.
Photo:Patient advocate Carole HemmelgarnPatient advocate Carole Hemmelgarn

The federal government tracks deaths from plane crashes, drunk-driving accidents, and most major diseases. But medical mistakes are quiet tragedies, occurring one by one. Even worse, unsuspecting patients who survive these errors often pay for follow-up surgeries and medical care. Hospital deaths are just the tip of the iceberg. The numbers don’t include harmful mistakes made in physicians’ offices, outpatient surgery centers, nursing homes, rehab enters, dialysis centers, or pharmacies. This human toll is incalculable, but the financial toll is estimated to be as high as $29 billion per year.

This wall of silence harms healthcare professionals, too. The defend-and-deny approach to patients often becomes shame-and-blame among medical teams who are pressed for time and resources, and operating under increasing stress. Medical malpractice claims go up, medical care remains risky, and no one wins.


But what if patients and doctors worked together to break that wall of silence? Could a bold group of patient advocates and medical professionals actually transform the way medicine is practiced?
Photo:Dr. David Mayer, Vice President of Quality and Safety for MedStarDr. David Mayer, Vice President of Quality and Safety for MedStar

That’s the vision of Dr. David Mayer. As the new Vice President of Quality and Safety for MedStar Health, Dr. Mayer is leading a group of hospitals in the Baltimore/Washington area to change the way healthcare responds to patient harm. He has developed a comprehensive program that pulls together best practices and ideas from years of work and research in patient safety and includes the patient’s voice in the conversation. His Patient Safety Advisory Council includes Patty, Carole, and Helen—mothers who turned their grief into influential healthcare advocacy work—as well as other nationally-known advocates such as Sorrel King and Victoria Nahum, and healthcare experts such as authors Rosemary Gibson and Michael Millenson.

To err is human. But to challenge and change those errors is heroic. Few have attempted to change the safety culture of an entire hospital system on this scale. This is an historic moment in healthcare to track in real-time the implementation of a new safety framework – and to do it in the backyard of our nation’s capital – with the hopes that the advances made at MedStar will lead to positive change across the nation.

Will you join us in documenting this important effort?
Photo: Author and healthcare leader Rosemary GibsonAuthor and healthcare leader Rosemary Gibson

We have been researching and filming interviews for this documentary for the past year. This month, Dr. Mayer and his team at the 10-hospital MedStar system are beginning to implement this strategy, and we have the privilege to film their journey. Because we own our production gear and are in the same region as our film’s subjects, we can film this quest for a relatively low cost. But this $25,000 goal is only a tenth of the total production budget for the film. This is just what we need for the immediate local production.

The Kickstarter crowdfunding platform is an all-or-nothing concept—if we don’t raise the full $25,000, we will not receive any of the donated funds. If our project succeeds in reaching its funding goal, all backers’ credit cards are charged when the campaign concludes. If the project falls short, no one is charged. But we can raise more than our initial goal, as well.

The full budget of this film will come from a variety of sources—from grants to our own finances. But if we can raise more than our immediate needs, it will speed up the production of this film. The reality for independent filmmakers is that we spend as much time scaring up money as we do actually making films. If you help us exceed our current goal, it will mean we can get this film out much faster than our anticipated release at the end of 2014.
Patty Skolnik after a patient advocate presentationPatty Skolnik after a patient advocate presentation

Please help us get the word out about BREAKING THE WALL OF SILENCE by talking about this film on your social media accounts: blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and more. We appreciate your support in building audience awareness!



Is my donation tax-deductible?
Unfortunately, it is not. Your donation is a gift to support the cause of this film.

Can I increase my pledge once it’s been made?
YES! Once you donate to our campaign, you may want to change your incentive reward to a different one, or increase your pledge amount. To do so, go to Kickstarter and sign in. When you visit our campaign page, you will see the green “Back This Project” button has been replaced with a blue “Manage Your Donation” button. Click it and you can enter a new donation amount, or choose a new incentive.

I want to know more about this issue. What other resources do you recommend?

There are many good resources available to educate yourself on this topic, but here are a few places to start:

1. We have collected many useful articles on the BREAKING THE WALL OF SILENCE Facebook page.

2. ProPublica’s ongoing investigation into patient safety has also yielded a number of articles and useful resources for patients and providers.

3. Marshall Allen, now a reporter for ProPublica, wrote about the “Seven Pillars” medical errors process that Dave Mayer and Tim McDonald developed in Chicago.

4. Dr. Mayer’s blog has numerous posts on this topic.

5. We also highly recommend Rosemary Gibson’s influential books: Wall of Silence, The Treatment Trap, and The Battle Over Healthcare.

6. Consumers Union has formed the Safe Patient Project.

You can also connect with the organizations and resources created by those on MedStar’s Advisory Council:

1. Citizens for Patient Safety, founded by Patty Skolnik.

2. The advocate directory of Mothers Against Medical Error, founded by Helen Haskell.

3. The Patient Safety Group and the Josie King Foundation, started by Sorrel King.

4. Health Quality Advisors, started by Michael Millenson, author of Demanding Medical Excellence.

5. The Safe Care Campaign, founded by Victoria Nahum.

How do we contact you if we have other questions? Glad you asked! You can contact us directly at We are eager to hear from you.

—Co-directors Brad Allgood and Carolyn McCulley for Citygate Films
Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

Every independent documentary is a risk because it’s a lot of hard work and not easy to fund. However, we have completed two independent feature documentaries already and have produced dozens of short films for nonprofit and corporate clients. Citygate Films itself has been in business for four years, but collectively we have more than two decades of experience in the industry.

That said, documentaries do need to show change in character over time. We are not working from a pre-written script but following actual people. We are dependent on filming what they can accomplish. While we feel that an 18-month window for production will capture a number of significant moments, we cannot firmly guarantee our film’s delivery date. If this happens, we will notify our backers about the changes and keep filming to produce a strong film.


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