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Peter Amato: Inner Harmony's Winding Road Toward Health (and Profitability) PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Peter Amato: Inner Harmony's Winding Road Toward Health (and Profitability)

Summary: Entrepreneur, integrative clinic founder, certified Yoga and meditation teacher, savvy political advocate and sometimes philanthropist Peter Amato, founder of the Inner Harmony Group, always has an unusual take on things integrative. Now after years of investment, tinkering with, and overhauling models, he's got a clinic breaking even, a federally-funded program to teach personal integration in public schools, another to explore integrated cancer care, and a message for success in integrated health care which begins, and returns to, purpose, peace and passion. (This article has a companion Integrator piece on Inner Harmony's US Department of Education-funded work to promote mindfulness and personal integration in elementary school children.)

Image When I spoke to Peter Amato recently, he was fresh off a presentation at the American Holistic Medical Association/American Holistic Nurses Association (AHMA/AHNA) conference in mid-June. In the sometimes incestuous world of integrated health care, I was the person who, contacted by a program manager in mid-2005, had recommended Amato for the slot.

Amato and I go back a ways. He was founder, in 1997, of the Inner Harmony Wellness Centers, a pioneering "integral care" clinic. His clinic participated in the Integrative Clinic Benchmarking Survey through which many people gained their first knowledge of the emerging models. Amato also had a leadership role in efforts to create some political energy behind the integrative care movement. He was a co-founder and chair of the National Integrative Medicine Council, and was a sponsor of the early Integrative Medicine Industry Leadership Summits. He'd participated as a volunteer "energy consultant" at a two-day retreat in 2002 of a group that grew out of the Summits.

Peter Amato, founder, Inner Harmony Group
At the time I referred him, Amato had recently told me that he had finally got his 9-year-old integrative clinic operating in the black, without philanthropic support. That kind of practical information would be good to share.
I projected that Amato would use the occasion to march out the data which would attract the numbers crunchers to his consulting practice.

"My intention is to
be in the world of
human consciousness
and spirituality, not
in health care.

"In integrative care
it's not about the

modalities. It's about
the person who is
the holder of the bag."

- Peter Amato

So when Peter sent me the slides of his AHMA-AHNA presentation, I immediately looked for those that were data heavy, bottom line-oriented. Instead I got these three words, said over in many ways, as the Inner Harmony Wellness "approach to healthcare transformation" - Purpose Peace Passion.  Slide #8 acknowledged that the "transformation is difficult."  Then the slide counseled again: Peace Purpose Passion. (His presentation is, or will soon be, available at the Inner Harmony Group site.)

Spiritual Mission that Begets the Business Model

What role does such a mantra have in our work? I think of some of the other refrains that Amato, a long-time meditator and teacher of Yoga and meditation, used in his slide show. That business about how change begins within. Then the one about how we can't change the world with the same thinking that got us here.

I often listen and think: Yeah, yeah, but let's get to the meat of this. How did you get to break even?

Amato will oblige and tick off some of what he has learned. (See the "Lessons for Running an Integrative Clinic in the Black", below.) He is a little reluctant to share these business tips right off the bat. It is as though they are off-message. Should we jump quickly into an exploratory pathway which recapitulates a failed way of thinking about the work at hand?

Amato's Lessons for Running
an Integrative Clinic in the Black

1.  Straight medicine pays the bills. CAM alone can't
significant overhead.

2.  Offer all patients direct access to CAM services
a la carte

3. Have all providers work with a shared chart.

4. For those who are very sick or want to be very
healthy, design multiple practitioner and multiple
services programs.

5. Offer programs in small, medium and large
"chunks," allowing for patient-buy-in and to match
"the patient's integration level of consciousness."

6. Develop clinical protocols where possible for
specific conditions/situations.

6. No fees on the website. Better to do it verbally
and to allow individualization. Provide some charity

7. Use a holistic nurse practitioner as a care

--- Provider Mix --

Inner Harmony was originally all CAM providers and
services. After a major re-design, the staff currently
includes 2 MDs, NP, massage therapist, certified
natural health provider, nutritionist, mind-body
therapist, acupuncturist, chiropractor, energy
medicine, Yoga, meditation and integral education.

 --- Bottom Line  ---

"In the black" to Amato means rent plus practitioner
salaries/fees plus overhead (including marketing,
education, etc.) plus some salary to the founder
plus some left over. He adds: "Profits are growing
each year." The clinic also does charity care for
the underserved.


Amato favors a deeper listening, and lessoning. He has experience running a successful, billion-dollar automotive enterprise with his father and siblings. He has known significant personal wealth. I wonder if these diminish his focus on success as measured on a balance sheet.

ImageA few additional twists in Amato's path help explain his focus.
He's a recovering addict. His healing process took him into 12 step programs, and inside himself. He eventually studied with Jon Kabat Zinn, PhD, Deepak Chopra, MD, Thich Nhat Hanh, Yogi Amrit Desai and others to gain teaching skills.

One way Amato applies the learning from his own transformation is clarity that quick emersion in business models may take one away from the most enduring work.
Amato has come to realize that, while his playground was originally health care, his focal interest is on what he calls "integral education" and transforming consciousness.

Mind-Body Applications: Clinical Services, Recovery, Corporate Health, Schools

Surprises and Lessons
What have been the

biggest surprises to you? 

The degree of denial

of reality, at all levels. The level
at which suffering is the focus.
The separation, that people
think that happiness is
contingent on something other
than themselves. In the business
work, I'd say the ignorance and
arrogance, the inability to listen
and accept change. We are still
talking about the symptoms.

Then how about

the lessons you would share -
what directions would you give?

First, educate. Second,

educate. Third, educate.

This clarity is increasingly shaping Amato's work. Consciousness is a common thread that runs through the diverse services and environments in which the Inner Harmony Group (IHG) now works.

  • Integrative clinics  For the group at the AHMA-AHNA conference, Amato practiced what he preaches. he began by taking the participants first through a 15-20 minute "journey into silence, with Yoga, to get them out of duality, to go beyond mind." The more mundane learnings would require a visit to his booth. (The slide show is available on the IHG site.)

  • Employee health and leadership   Amato took the hospice staff of Mercy Hospital, in his Pennsylvania region, away from their surroundings. "We take them to a place with a higher healing vibration. We do exercises, breathing. We listen, listen, listen to each other until we all realize we are saying the same thing." He does "shamanic things" to help "the light go on, and to frame up experience of a unversal spirit or unity consciousness and then the workshop really begins." Inner Harmony's corporate leadership work is called Success Redefined.

  • US DoE Grant for Mindfulness Training and Integral Education in Public Schools  Inner Harmony has won roughly $300,000 in US Department of Education grants to offer and test mindfulness training in a Scranton, Pennsylvania elementary school. A compelling, 17-minute promotional DVD on their Courage for Kids to Cope program is available for those interested. (This ground-breaking work is the subject of a separate Integrator article.)

  • HHS Grant for Integrated Cancer Care  Inner Harmony partnered with medical groups, via Mercy Health Partners and an independent oncology practice, to facilitate work on a separate grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to offer and examine an integrated cancer-care program. They are evaluating the program in collaboration with Marywood University. The clinical program includes lymphatic drainage, acupuncture and a year-long mind-body skills training class. Inner harmony presented qualitative results at the 2005 meeting of the American Public Health Association, and will doing so again in November of 2006.

  • Recovery Programs  Amato's own experience with recovery from substance issues through 12-step programs, then additional work, has left him believing that 12 step programs frequently "leave people struggling with their relationship to a higher power." Inner Harmony developed a treatment program for Lackawanna County which has received national attention. The program, called the Lackawanna Country Drug Treatment Course, focuses on mind-body skills training and is used "in lieu of incarceration" in the local system, according to Amato. Inner Harmony also has a focused rehab program with relationships with three rehabilitation centers. IHG is actively expanding this work.

The projects do not always turn out optimally. He notes that Inner Harmony's second clinical site, associated with Mercy Hospital, is struggling: "We rent space at Mercy, but we would benefit with a deeper alignment." He notes that the conventional staff is not actively referring to the extent Inner Harmony had hoped: "Education (of these providers) is more primary than it gets credit for."

With Inner Harmony's founding clinic running in the black, Amato is shifting his focus. While he'd originally conceived of his work as "health care," he is now clear that his central mission is "transforming consciousness." The school programs and recovery programs are increasingly claiming more of his energy.

Meantime, a core piece of consciousness with which he works is his own. Amato is part way through a transpersonal psychology Masters degree which focuses on the work of others of his teachers, Carl Jung and Sri Aurobindo.

Comment:  Amato's mission of transformation of consciousness reminds me of a message Tai Sophia Institute co-founder Bob Duggan recently gave to a room full of policy-interested CAM-IM practitioners. Duggan's talk was built around a refrain Amato would like. In the room were practitioners for whom one possible future is an insurance-based practice of "green allopathy." Integration into the juggernaut of conventional medicine promotes conformity with dominant school norms - including a practitioner role which recapitulates the typical physician-patient relationship.

But another direction would be to craft a role for a new-paradigm physician/practitioner who is fundamentally in service to patient empowerment and transformation. Duggan, who has never hesitated to call the paradigm question, asked them simply: What business are you in?

Most of us in this field readily articulate a transformative mission. We then disappear into practices which, because of what Peter Amato would describe as "one form of suffering or another," tend to pull us from this goal.
Amato is clear that the Inner Harmony Group is in the business of raising consciousness and transforming lives.

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