Howard Hiatt—physician, scientist, advocate for global health, and mentor to generations of healthcare leaders—has spent much of his seven-decade career being ahead of his time. His innovative ideas as head of Harvard's School of Public Health from 1972 to 1984—about preventive medicine, the incorporation of cutting-edge science into the curriculum, and cross-disciplinary collaboration—met fierce resistance at the time but are now widely recognized building blocks of public health. Hiatt's interest in global health and health equity equipped him to advocate for a series of younger physicians and researchers, including Paul Farmer and Jim Kim, two founders of Partners in Health, and the prominent health policy expert Don Berwick. This book tells the story of Hiatt's life and work, with important lessons for today drawn from Hiatt's 92 years of experience.
Hiatt, born in 1925, attended Harvard College and received an M.D. degree from Harvard Medical School. Before he headed the School of Public Health, he was a modernizing force as chief of medicine at Boston's Beth Israel Hospital. After his stormy tenure at SPH, he went to Brigham and Women's as a professor of medicine and a senior physician with a portfolio of his own devising. It was at the Brigham that Hiatt took on the role of mentor, influencing generations of physicians and staking out new territory in the fields of global health and clinical effectiveness. He is still active at 92 as teacher and mentor.
San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital is the last almshouse in the country, a descendant of the Hôtel-Dieu (God’s hotel) that cared for the sick in the Middle Ages. Ballet dancers and rock musicians, professors and thieves—“anyone who had fallen, or, often, leapt, onto hard times” and needed extended medical care—ended up here. So did Victoria Sweet, who came for two months and stayed for twenty years.
Laguna Honda, relatively low-tech but human-paced, gave Sweet the opportunity to practice a kind of attentive medicine that has almost vanished. Gradually, the place transformed the way she understood her work. Alongside the modern view of the body as a machine to be fixed, her extraordinary patients evoked an older idea, of the body as a garden to be tended. God’s Hotel tells their story and the story of the hospital itself, which, as efficiency experts, politicians, and architects descended, determined to turn it into a modern “health care facility,” revealed its own surprising truths about the essence, cost, and value of caring for the body and the soul.