Thursday, April 1, 2010

Thinking Outside the Box with the Gesundheit! Institute

The Gesundheit! Institute is a not-for-profit health care organization practicing holistic medicine with focused attention on individuals and their connections to family, community, world, and the health care system. They offer innovative learning experiences and create sister organizations. From their page:

Gesundheit’s model is designed to protect care as the core of the medical interaction. Our model is organized around these principles:

  • Care is free.
  • Patients are treated as friends.
  • Ample time is given to the care interaction (e.g. initial interviews with patients are 3 hours long).
  • All complementary medicine is welcomed.
  • The health of the staff is as important as the health of the patients.
  • Care is infused with fun and play.

Members of the Institute are health practitioners and health educators. Gesundheit’s intention is to model creative problem solving and to spark each medical facility to design their own ideal - to deliver health care in a context that is our ideal design and educate other health care practitioners to design their ideal models for care.

In its 37-year history, Gesundheit has offered care to tens of thousands, given workshops and lectures in over 65 countries, built and supported clinics, schools, and orphanages from El Salvador to Cambodia, and brought the joy of clowning to parts of the world damaged by violence and injustice.

It's really amazing stuff. As everyone discusses/debates/fumes over health care reform, I've been thinking about this place. I don't know if its the right model for every community but it serves a higher purpose for me. It represents a way of thinking that is deeply compassionate and hopeful. Susan Parenti characterizes the Gesundheit! approach as:

"Do it local, do it now, do it small, link with all. "

She calls this "whole system design" - think universally, design locally - and argues that it pairs well with the single-payer/universal coverage efforts. I have to agree with her when she says that the laws we're enacting right now are not perfect, not even close, but they are a step in the right direction. A single payer system levels the playing field and takes power from big business. What I love about the Gesundheit! model is its focus on locality. What I can't stand about health care reform is the top-down approach that assumes that what's right for all is right for one. America is huge and a blanket approach will ultimately disappoint.

Humanizing health care is another aspect of the Gesundheit! Institute that I love. It values patients, providers, and families equally. It's hospitals must be creative, comfortable, and communal. It embraces innovation and actively invites people to support it in their own capacities (e.g. provides beds for service-oriented vacations, like plumbers!). It's tools are sterile but its attitude is not.

So when it comes to health care reform, I'm not super happy but I'm not complaining much either. I'm taking it for what it is - an step in the right direction. I recognize the need for change but know we are a long way from something satisfactory. So be it.

If I were closer to Washington state or had 3 weeks to dedicate to passionate learning, I'd be at these:

Thinking Outside the Box: Re-Design our Health Care System
May 27-30, 2010 at the Olympia Community Center in Olympia, WA

Okay, we've got health insurance legislation. On to health care system reform! Patch Adams MD and the School for Designing a Society invite you to a 3-day conference on health care system design, "Thinking from Inside Out of the Box: Re-Design our Health Care System!" The aim of this working conference is to seed designs of a variety of local projects that move the health care system away from the corporate-business context into models of compassion and service. Speaker's presentations, breakout groups, design groups, informational tutorials on 'What's Goin' On??", skit-and-song-writing---all will focus on a DIY approach (Do It Yourself!) to changing health care system contexts on the local level. All stakeholders in health care systems are welcome: doctors and nurses, med and nursing students, health care support staff, patients and families, dreamers and organizers. We are offering an earlybird discount for applications accepted before April 15th. Learn more now.

Composing Community
June 23-July 16, 2010 at the Gesundheit! Institute (Hillsboro, West Virginia)

When is community? What makes an intentional community intended? What would your ideal community look like? Composing Community, a three-week design intensive and living lab at the Gesundheit! Institute, is an opportunity to explore alternative models of cooperation, leadership, decision making, labor distribution, and organizational structure. Gesundheit's philosophy will be a starting point; in the course of eating, working, studying together, participants will reflect upon their experiences and collaboratively design a new community model. In the second half, we will try out our designs as supporting hosts for the 10-day "Composing Music, Composing Activism" session. Students receive a tuition waiver to Music and Activism classes. Within their community design, students face the challenge of determining a desired way of participating in Music and Activism classes that does not conflict with completing work tasks. For more information and to apply, send an email to

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