Patch Adams (b 1945) and Gesundheit Institute


Gesundheit Institute, Hillsboro, West Virginia


Photo of Patch Adams during a clowning tour in Morocco, 2014.
Photo credit: Lucy Paige Sheffield

Patch Adams

Born in 1945, Hunter “Patch” Adams is an American physician, public speaker, comedian, author and clown. He considers himself as an activist for peace, justice and care for all people. As a child and young teen, Patch was a nerdy strange kid. He was critical of racism, violence and injustice. He was bullied and became actively suicidal. He was repetitively hospitalized in his late teens for wanting to end his life. However, at the age of 18, he decided to make a love revolution instead of ending his life and he decided to serve humanity.

Following his graduation from Medical College of Virginia in 1971, “Patch” Adams envisioned a free, full-scale hospital and health care eco-community. He founded Gesundheit institute with a group of twenty of his friends following six foundational principles.

The institute ran as a free community hospital from a communal home where initial interviews with patients took 3 to 4 hours. The practicing doctors at the hospital integrated all the healing arts. They combined medicine with performance arts, arts and crafts, nature, agriculture, education, recreation and social services. They cared for the health of the staff as much they cared for the health of the patients. The hospital ran for 12 years until they ran out of funding in 1983.

In 1984, Patch Adams organized the first international humanitarian clown trip to the Soviet Union. Since then, the Gesundheit’s Global Outreach institute organizes multiple yearly humanitarian clowning trips to visit hospitals, orphanages and elderly homes in war zones, refugee camps and natural disaster sites. In parallel, Patch has discovered his passion for teaching after becoming a student for the School for Designing a Society (SDaS). SDaS is now the educational wing of the Gesundheit’s Institute. The mission of the school is to teach those who want to change society through desire, design and composition. The school supports participants in imagining and designing a system for a society different from the current one.

Another aspect of society that needed reframing and reclaiming is the concept of hospitals. Patch believes that hospitals should be a combination of learning and caring nested in an intentional community, where healing is not a business transaction but a loving human exchange, friendship and mutual interdependence. Patch highlighted the fact that one cannot separate the health of the individual from the health of the family, community, society and the world. In 1997, Patch focused his work to get the free dream hospital built. However, building a hospital requires a huge non-existing budget. Hence, the Gesundheit Institute launched in 2007 a fundraising to build Patch Adams Teaching Center and Clinic in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. The construction of a teaching center started in 2011 with the hopes of achieving the dream of having a free communal hospital in a community ecovillage combined with a teaching center.

In 1998, the film “Patch Adams” starring Robin Williams debuted. Adams criticized the film for inaccurate representation of his activism and for solely focusing on commercializing the cause.

Suggested Reading:

Clark, C. D. (2013). A clown most serious: Patch Adams. International Journal of Play, 2(3), 163–173.


Contributed by Sandy El-Bitar

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