Opinion: Taking care of Charlie helped one California town nearly halve hospital use

A California town's radical experiment in compassion helped one man in his journey to recovery. It also changed the community.
A tent in a homeless encampment in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles. Source: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Everyone in Clearlake knew Charlie. You could find him in the park, sleeping on a bench, or around town adding to his impressive list of transgressions. In a single year, Charlie racked up more than 35 skirmishes with law enforcement, 25 hospital visits, and 16 emergency transports. By most accounts, he was a burden to the system.

Many of us in health care have treated dozens, if not hundreds, of patients like Charlie (we’re using a pseudonym here). Millions of Americans like him — victims.

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