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Allina Honors Integrative Medicine Visionary: Top Program Becomes the Penny George Institute PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Allina Honors Integrative Medicine Visionary:  U.S.'s Top Hospital Program Becomes the Penny George Institute for Health & Healing

SummaryPenny George, one of a handful of individuals who has had the most significant influence on the development of integrative medicine in the United States, was honored recently by Allina Health System. Allina announced that it will change the name of its leading edge, inpatient-outpatient integrative center to the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. The September 26, 2008 Allina release only suggests the many strategic roles George has played in advancing this movement in US and global health care. George's story begins with a personal experience of breast cancer.  Her vision led to the formation of an influential academic consortium, development of a collaborative of philanthropists, sponsorship of an IOM summit, lift-off for a key international research conference, enhancement of multidisciplinary initiatives and, on the ground in the Allina system, 8,000 outpatient and 14,500 inpatient integrative care visits a year.   
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integrative medicine, philanthropy, leadership
Penny George: A Visionary for Integrative Practices
The numbers speak for themselves, boldly and powerfully. 8,000 integrative care outpatient visits. 14,500 integrative care inpatient visits. For virtually all of the emerging hospital-based integrative medicine programs in the United States, these figures would be wildly aspirational. For what is now the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, these numbers are a record of service for 2007.

Behind the numbers is a vision born in the crucible of Penny George's relationship to cancer. In a September 26, 2008 press release in which the
Allina Health System announced the naming of the Institute in  her honor, Penny George, the human being-as-patient, is quoted this way:
“My journey of recovery from breast cancer illuminated for me the vast potential for healing that can accompany a life-threatening illness, as well as the ways in which current medical practices are shortchanging Americans.”
The experience aligned her with the movement for "integrative medicine" which the release defines as "a patient-centered approach to health care that integrates conventional medicine with the wisdom of other healing traditions."  George does not hold back when she describes her view of the value in such care:
“Integrative medicine has the potential to fundamentally change the face of health care today. The Institute is a philosophical and clinical manifestation of that promise.”
The Penny George
Institute’s Mission

The Institute for Health
and Healing will transform
health care locally through
the provision of outstanding
integrative care to patients
and employees in all settings
across Abbott Northwestern
Hospital and its related

The Institute for Health
and Healing will transform health
care nationally through the
development and dissemination
of integrative care practices that
demonstrably enhance quality,
ensure safety and reduce costs.

The George Institute's services, which include acupuncture, biofeedback, music therapy, nutrition consultations, massage therapy, and a range of other services do not particularly distinguish the Institute from others. What sets it apart is the depth of penetration, under the direction of holistic nurse Lori Knutson, RN, BSN, HNC, into the inpatient environment. The Institute's 2007 Outcomes Report is here.

The philanthropic support which Penny George and her husband Bill George have provided over the years has topped $4.5-million. Allina's release notes that the George's gifts served as "the cornerstone of a $15 million campaign with more than 6,500 donors."  Besides executive director Knutson, who earned the 2006 American Holistic Nurse of the Year award, the George Institute's leadership team include two new recruits: medical director Gregory Plotnikoff, MD, MTS, FACP, formerly with the Keio University School of Medicine in Tokyo, and new research director Jeffrey Dusek, PhD, formerly of Harvard Medical School.

The announcement was made by Dick Pettingill, chief executive officer of Allina Hospitals & Clinics in Minneapolis of which Abbott Northwestern is a part. The Institute was founded in 2003 by the George Family Foundation and the Ted and Roberta Mann Foundation. Said George:
"It is our hope that the Institute will become a national model for improving health care through the healing essence of integrative medicine.”

Comment:  One cannot easily quantify the powerful strategic influence Penny George has had in shaping the integrative medicine movement in the United States and internationally. While George and her spouse, former Medtronic CEO and now author-teacher Bill George, are partners in their philanthropy, the impetus for their involvement in integrative medicine came from Penny George. She experienced personally, then acted locally, nationally and globally.

Penny George
experienced personally,
then acted locally
nationally, and globally.

The release alluded to the George Family Foundation being "known as one of the nation’s leaders in the philanthropic movement to advance integrative medicine." The resume is remarkable.

  • Midwife to the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine   In the late 1990s, the Georges helped pull together the academic programs in integrative medicine which were popping up here and there around the country.  They helped corral these leaders into becoming the now influential Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine.

  • Co-founding and chairing the Bravewell Collaborative of philanthropists   Penny George and colleagues took note of the fact that a number of philanthropists in integrative medicine were emerging just as academic medical programs and hospital programs were popping up. Together they formed what is now the Bravewell Collaborative. Bravewell has made strategic investments is the conventional Consortium, in major media, in expanding integrative medicine fellowships, in clarifying best practices, in a practice-based research network, and most recently, a partnership with the Institute of Medicine to create a National Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public. Penny George was a Bravewell co-founder and its founding chair.

  • Respect for diverse practitioner types   A psychologist by training, Penny George has also quietly been a voice for respecting the value of non-MD contributions to the integrative practice movement. The Georges supported a hopeful by ultimately short-lived multidisciplinary educational initiative developed by Pali Delevitt. The George Family Foundation was one of just three philanthropic entities in integrative medicine to support the multidisciplinary National Education Dialogue to Advance Integrated Health Care: Creating Common Ground. Nothing speaks more powerfully on this account than the continuous backing of Knutson, a holistic nurse, as the wise driver of the Health and Healing Institute inside Allina. 

Here's to long-life for the Institute and for Penny George's inclusive vision of a patient-centered approach to health care that integrates conventional medicine with the wisdom and practitioners from other healing traditions.

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