Book Review: God’s Hotel

At the last almshouse in the United States, health care is almost unrecognizably hospitable.

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"God's Hotel" by Victoria Sweet (Riverhead)

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At Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, the last almshouse in the United States, health care is almost unrecognizably, well, hospitable. A nurse knits blankets for the patients in her care, and multi-bed wards invite positive social interaction between the long-term and the terminally ill. Time is an ample resource for gardening, for community, and, most importantly, for healing. But even this oasis of humane care is not free from the pressure to maximize efficiency: A changing administration threatens to pull Laguna Honda into the fast-paced world of modern medicine, where doctor-patient relationships are sacrificed and hospital stays are cut to the minimum.

This is where Dr. Victoria Sweet discovers that inefficient health care—the kind that allows a doctor to make an unhurried and accurate diagnosis, and to demonstrate commitment to the patient’s healing process—may be the most cost-effective approach. Sweet paints a dynamic portrait of Laguna Honda over a 20-year span, taking sabbaticals for a PhD in Hildegard von Bingen’s premodern medicine and a 1,200-mile pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela that inform her philosophy on the merits of slow medicine. God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet is at its core testimonial to the body’s remarkable ability to heal when it is provided with the simple ingredients of time and care.