DO YOU KNOW THIS GUY?
The Patch Adams of House of Hope
Do you know someone who drives around San Pedro with a particularly unusual license plate, one which happens to say “ADIX MD?” Do you know someone who marched last year in the iconic Doo Dah Parade as a Flying Spaghetti Monster?
Do you know someone who has been a rain recorder for the National Weather Service since 1971? Who is also an accomplished photographer, dog lover, ardent gardener, keeper of koi, bowler, and world traveler? And who also has a wonderful sense of humor and compassion – especially for alcoholics, drug addicts, and the abused?
That person, of course, is Dr. Richard Merrick, the Medical Director of House of Hope.
Dr. Merrick began his medical career as an internist at Kaiser-South Bay in 1970. When Kaiser needed someone to head a new alcohol and addiction program for federal employees, he was recruited. At that time alcohol and drug abuse was not recognized as a legitimate medical specialty and Merrick’s involvement was part-time.
As the department grew, Dr. Merrick became full-time director in 1988. Under his direction he expanded the program to include a wider patient clientele and based treatment on knowledge gained from greater scientific and medical understanding of the nature of addictions and mental illness.
During this time he also became involved in Kaiser’s smoking cessation program and brought it under the umbrella of the addiction program. In 2002 he retired from Kaiser, but almost immediately returned as an addiction consultant in Kaiser’s Psychiatry Clinic.
Around 2005, a member of the House of Hope Board of Directors and friend of his wife, seeing his expertise in addiction medicine, recruited him to join the Board. Seeing that a former patient of his was now working as a staff member at the House also inspired him to get involved. He served three terms on the Board!
In 2016 the State of California Drug Medi-Cal Program mandated recovery homes have medical directors in order to receive funding, so Dr. Merrick became our Medical Director. By then, the field of addiction medicine had been accepted as a legitimate medical subspecialty.
In his position as Medical Director of HOH, Dr. Merrick serves several functions. He performs patients’ physicals, and reviews and signs off on medical treatments. Once a month he holds his beloved “Medical Stuff,” a Q&A class in which he encourages clients to ask all sorts of medical questions. One of the best question he’s ever been asked is, “How do you heal a broken heart?”
A quirky sense of humor is Dr. Merrick’s hallmark and key to his success in working with the women at HOH. To put them at ease, he loves to joke with them while doing physicals. When he needs to examine one of them, he asks his assistant (an HOH staff member) to get the instrument (which turns out to be kitchen utensil such as a pancake flipper) which he then pretends to use as a surgical tool. One time he waved a digital scanning thermometer across a woman’s forehead and she asked him what he was doing. “Reading your mind,” he said, giving her a good scare!
His joking and wonderful bedside manner aside, Dr. Merrick assumes his position as Medical Director with unwavering responsibility. His education, training and experience have shown him the gravity of addiction. With the greater understanding today of co-existing disorders and the acknowledgment that immediate concurrent treatment is needed to prevent relapse, Dr. Merrick remains hopeful that all of his patients will stay on the road to recovery.