Gesundheit! Patch Adams is coming to town


Gesundheit, German for “health,” typically is said to someone after they sneeze. The Gesundheit! Institute is a not-for-profit health care organization founded by Dr. Hunter ”Patch” Adams, to create a new model of health care that is linked to community health, welcomes complementary medicine and is infused with fun and play. In the 1998 film Patch Adams, (a trailer is here)  Robin Williams showcased some of how he conceived and implemented these principles. Fun, laughter, health care, and healing – how often do you experience those in the same place?

That place may soon be North Philadelphia, where citizens are planning a Patch Adams Free Clinic.They’ve got the site and the plans to make it happen. And now Patch Adams is coming to Philadelphia to give two public talks: Tuesday, July 23, at Drexel University near Center City and Wednesday, July 24, at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries in North Philly. Both are free and open to the public. You don’t even have to wear your red clown nose  to be admitted, although I’m pretty sure Dr. Adams would appreciate it if you did.

I interviewed Paul Glover, founding director of the Patch Adams Free Clinic, who is working with neighborhood leaders and activists to transform the five-acre vacant lot into North Philadelphia into the clinic site. They’ve reached out to form partnerships with businesses and organizations, including architects, designers and landscapers, and they’ve met with Philadelphia city planners and environmental officials. Paul tells me they are ready to get the permissions finalized with the city and the neighborhood, and have an option to purchase the land for their “health campus.” Next up is the fundraising needed to purchase the land and then, let the building begin. A six-minute video (embedded below) explains their idea and how it would work.

What would they build on the five acres? They envision a passive-solar health clinic building on one acre, and another acre each devoted to an orchard, greenhouses, a food forest (with edible plants) and low-income passive solar housing. Green jobs training in construction would be part of the plan.

The idea for a community health center focusing on wellness and neighborhoods originally took root in the 1960s. Drawn from the Civil Rights movement and the War on Poverty that led to the creation of the Office of Economic Opportunity, pioneering programs were developed in the Mississippi Delta, the Columbia Point neighborhood in Boston, and in other spots around the nation. Bonnie Lefkowitz wrote a history of some of these community health centers. (Full disclosure, I co-edit the book series in which this volume appeared).

Community health centers are set to expand and to serve more patients thanks to funding from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known to many as Obamacare. A summary of the goals, resources and expectations is here.

The Patch Adams Free Clinic supporters seems to draw from the 1960s activist spirit that led to the creation of the first community health centers and from the contemporary belief that community health centers are an effective way to deliver care. They’ve added an environmentally-conscious approach and a passion for neighborhood involvement and humor to try to create something new.

Let’s watch and see how they grow – and hear what Patch Adams has to say about this effort.

Janet Golden, a Rutgers University history professor, specializes in the histories of medicine, childhood and women.

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