At a Manhattan teaching hospital, the life of Dr. Bock (George C. Scott), the Chief of Medicine, is in disarray: he has left his wife, his children don’t talk to him, and his once-beloved teaching hospital is falling apart.
The hospital is dealing with the sudden deaths of two doctors and a nurse. These are attributed to coincidental or unavoidable failures to provide accurate treatment.
At the same time, administrators must deal with a protest against the hospital’s annexation of an adjacent and decrepit apartment building. The annexation is to be used for a drug rehabilitation center; the building’s current occupants demand that the hospital find them replacement housing before the building is demolished despite the building being condemned sometime before.
Dr. Bock admits to impotence and has thoughts of suicide, but falls in love with Barbara Drummond (Diana Rigg), a patient’s daughter who came with her father from Mexico for his treatment. This temporarily gives Dr. Bock something to live for, after Barbara challenges and engages with him.
The deaths are discovered to have been caused by Barbara’s father (Barnard Hughes) as retribution for the “inhumanity” of modern medical treatment. Drummond takes no personal responsibility, claiming his victims would have been saved if they had received prompt, appropriate treatment, but they did not. Dr. Bock and Barbara use a final, accidental death of a doctor at the hospital to cover Drummond’s misdeeds. Barbara makes plans to fly with her father back to Mexico. Dr. Bock at first intends to go with them, but at the last minute, driven by his sense of obligation, he insists on staying behind at the hospital so that it will not descend into total chaos.