The art on the walls of Dr. David Charp’s waiting room tells quite a bit about the man.
There are hand-drawn pictures and letters his three kids presented to him and his wife, Gail, in their crayon-and-pencil years. And that was quite a while back. The couple’s eldest, Kimberly, has helped Charp run his practice for 17 years, and she and her brothers have by now produced four grandchildren.
You can read into the yellowed artwork, stuck to wallpaper from another epoch, that Charp is OK with keeping things the way they are. And that he’s not one to spend his patients’ money on nonessential things.
He is a small-town doc who figures he has made 3,000 house calls and who’s kept to the traditional ways as Santa Rosa has grown larger and more sophisticated. He struggles a bit with what he’s decided to do Wednesday, his 70th birthday.
He’ll close up his no-frills office across Montgomery Drive from Memorial Hospital, and retire.
The tall, angular and amiable physician is concluding his more than 40-year career feeling awfully good about the thousands of people served, including three and four generations of some families.
He observes that not one patient has sued him in all these years. “I’m proud of that now,” he said. He assumes his patients figured that even if he made a mistake, he was trying do right by them.
“And I never sent anyone to a collection. I’m proud of that, too,” Charp said. When a patient isn’t able to pay a bill, he has accepted less or just forgiven the debt.
He announced his retirement in a three-page letter to patients that he wrote late one night when his big decision rattled his sleep. Recalling memories of a few specific patients, he wrote of the elderly woman he saw in a hospital emergency room because she was hemorrhaging from a large, inoperable abdominal aortic aneurysm.
“Unfortunately,” Charp wrote, “she had a falling out with her daughter and they hadn’t spoken in years.” After administering morphine for her pain, he sat next to her, held her hand and told her that her daughter was out in the waiting room and would come in to see her once one more blood test was completed.
He wrote, “My patient smiled, and kept that smile for the next 30 minutes while we continued to talk, and then she died.
“I had lied, the staff never could reach the daughter, but my patient never knew, and she died happy.”
Charp wrote to his patients, “I tried to be a good listener … If you couldn’t come to me, I came to you … I end my career with a clear medical license and, more importantly, a clear conscience. And I hope I end it entirely among friends.”
Seated in the waiting room of the offices he bought in 1975, Charp said one thing troubling him as he prepares to retire is that some of his patients on Medi-Cal or a combination of Medi-Cal and Medicare are telling him they haven’t found another doctor who will take them on.
Not one to refuse any patient because of the state of his or her finances or insurance, he said it’s painful to him that so many people are turned down as they seek health care.