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NYC-set 'New Amsterdam' looks to change the medical industry onscreen and off 

The medical industry is "rather complicated and there are a lot of loopholes people don't know about," says actress Janet Montgomery.

Primetime's latest medical drama, "New Amsterdam," was inspired

Primetime's latest medical drama, "New Amsterdam," was inspired by a New York City hospital and its patients.    Photo Credit: Francisco Roman/NBC/NBC

NBC’s “New Amsterdam” is a medical drama on a mission.

The New York City-filmed series, with growing ratings, burst into the primetime scene this fall with a familiar script: a group of doctors who rarely leave the ER take on a new dire case in each episode.  

Setting it apart from its established predecessors (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Chicago Med,” etc.) is a script rooted in reality. The medical center run by Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold) is looking to put patient care first, and financial concerns second.

The premise is inspired by Bellevue Hospital on First Avenue, which is the oldest public hospital in the country. Goodwin himself is a fictional version of the hospital’s former medical director, Dr. Eric Manheimer, who spent 15 years shaking up hospital policies with the end goal of better patient care.

“Dr. Eric Manheimer, who’s also a producer on the show, he wrote the book ‘Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital’ about his time as director,” says actress Janet Montgomery. Starring opposite Eggold, she portrays the fictional Dr. Lauren Bloom.

New Amsterdam treats Rikers Island prisoners, takes on Ebola cases and cares for those turned away elsewhere.

“A lot of the stories we have in these episodes are from that book,” she says.

Below, Montgomery explains how the series looks to change the medical industry, onscreen and off.

The series screams this idea that the medical industry needs repair. How is “New Amsterdam” trying to reshape our approach?

I think it’s sort of a mystery, the medical industry and it’s rather complicated and there are a lot of loopholes people don’t know about. One of the things the show producer David (Schulner) is doing quite sneakily is sort of informing people of what they can do. You can dispute your medical bill with your hospital, which I don’t think a lot of people knew. That’s something that goes into an episode.

… I think the overall message is about the whole social issue going on right now of having to look after one’s self. The way the health care system is structured, you don’t feel like you’re going to go to the hospital and they’re going to say, well this is the best way we can treat you. You know, it’s a booming business which is very different from where I grew up (in Bournemouth, England). Our medical health care is not a business. If anything, they don’t want to treat you because it costs them. Here, the need is about teaching people all the facts and I think that is what the show is doing. So they can go in and be prepared when they go to the hospital.

The series takes on other culturally relevant issues, too, like police brutality and immigration.

Yeah, I think it’s hard to avoid them. You’re telling current day stories, then they’re bound to seep into them. I don’t think we’re setting out to tell a one-sided political agenda or being preachy. I really don’t think that’s what the show is trying to do. I do think political and social issues are bound to come up in an organic way. And they are coming up, without judgment though.

How do you approach playing a role that is rooted in reality?

I definitely looked to the book. And I think we’re quite lucky with this because the writing is so brilliant so I felt in safe hands with the writers there to answer any questions I had. That’s a blessed position to be in. Preparation is still the same, I got to meet with the actual ER head of a hospital, sat down with him for a few hours and it was very beneficial. But mostly, I’m still creating a character that doesn’t exist.

Dr. Bloom was one of the few spared when Dr. Goodwin cleaned house. What can we expect to see for her this season?

Lauren is very different from Max. She’s smart, cynical, like in a dark humor sort of way. She’s also confident and is sort of a human metaphor for the ER department, I think. Kind of manic, so much power going on, she’s a bit like that as a person. She’s the type of person that doesn’t like to be alone. She’s not the type, after a long day, who wants to go home and unwind. We’ll see how that plays into her relationships and why she’s so burnt-out at work. She feels the most at home doing her job, I guess.

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