Treating the whole person: How a small community of philanthropists made a big difference in health care

Treating the whole person: How a small community of philanthropists made a big difference in health care

(BPT) – In the late 90s, Minneapolis resident Penny George was diagnosed with breast cancer. After undergoing a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy, she thought her physicians were focused solely on the disease and the interventions being used – not on her as the person who was experiencing the disease and also seeking to overcome it. Her treatment felt incomplete. In search of a whole person approach to care, George added different integrative medicine practices to her care regimen. Through this healing process, she realized little attention was given to preventing disease or to survivorship, and she wanted to do something to change the way medicine was being practiced.

Most common chronic diseases – obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and some types of cancer and asthma – are linked to behavioral and/or environmental risk factors and can be mitigated or avoided through preventive and wellness practices.

‘As I navigated my own path toward wellness, I became convinced that what I had learned – both the knowledge and the tools for self-care – should be available to everyone,” George explains. “I also believed that philanthropy could help bring about the changes that needed to happen in medicine.”

In her quest to make a difference in health care, George convened a select group of philanthropists and health care professionals who recognized the problem and wanted to ‘make health care more responsive to the complete needs and well-being of the patient.’ Forming The Bravewell Collaborative in 2002, these 20-plus philanthropists managed a collective trust of funds, and took an active role in bringing integrative medicine to the forefront of health care.

Bravewell chose to sunset in 2015, but its accomplishments and legacy projects continue to help transform health care. Some of these efforts include:

Coordinate research on the effectiveness of integrative medicine interventions. Patients Receiving Integrative Medicine Interventions Effectiveness Registry (PRIMIER), is the first nationwide database focused on integrative medicine. Developed and managed by BraveNet, a practice-based research network comprised of 14 integrative medicine centers based at some of the nation’s leading hospitals and medical centers, the registry has enrolled more than 2,000 patients to date so researchers can evaluate patient-reported outcomes over time. The registry evaluates areas such as quality of life, pain, mood, and stress for patients who supplement conventional medical care with therapies such as acupuncture, yoga, chiropractic, biofeedback, nutrition, massage, and mindfulness. PRIMIER is managed by Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University.

Build a network of leaders with the knowledge and skills to expand an integrative health culture across health care and beyond. The Leadership Program in Integrative Healthcare at Duke University is a year-long program that cultivates integrative health care leaders to inspire change in the future of health care.

Expand the footprint of integrative health and medicine at academic medical centers through the countryHealth & Fitness. The Academic Consortium for Integrative Health & Medicine went from a group of eight medical schools to 56 schools and health systems that have each developed clinical centers to deliver integrative care. Beyond fostering a physical footprint of integrative health care throughout the country, the Consortium established strong communities of practice that have furthered the advancement and adoption of integrative medicine by developing models of care, facilitating the incorporation of integrative medicine into all levels of medical education, supporting high-quality research, and influencing local, state, and national health policy.

“Bravewell was born with an unusual goal: to not exist,” says Christy Mack, philanthropist and former President of the Bravewell Collaborative. “We created a timeline for our work, which kept us focused on one thing – achieving what we set out to do. We worked together to change how Americans think about their health and the kind of health care they receive, and to bring about the cultural change necessary to create a healthier nation.”

A new book, The Bravewell Story: How a Small Community of Philanthropists Made a Big Difference in Healthcare, traces the 14-year history of this organization and how it addressed important issues in health care. In the book, Bonnie Horrigan, author and former executive director of The Bravewell Collaborative, details the critical principles that guided the organization’s vision, mission and decision-making, which other organizations could incorporate into their own initiatives and projects.

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* Glennon Doyle Melton is the author of the New York Times Bestseller, CARRY ON, WARRIOR, founder of, and creator of Glennon believes that life is equal parts beautiful and brutal, and writes about the “brutiful” she finds in marriage, motherhood, faith, addiction and recovery. Glennon unleashes her wit, courage and irreverence to call us to accept ourselves exactly as we are today, but also incidentally inspires us to live bolder, more meaningful lives for others. Glennon is a speaker and regular contributor to Huffington Post and other publications. CARRY ON, WARRIOR and Glennon’s philanthropic work have been featured on The TODAY Show, The Talk, Ladies’ Home Journal, Parents Magazine, and American Baby, among other television and print outlets. She lives in Naples, Florida with her family.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

Lessons from the Mental Hospital | Glennon Doyle Melton | TEDxTraverseCity Lessons from the Mental Hospital | Glennon Doyle Melton | TEDxTraverseCity

14 Responses to “Treating the whole person: How a small community of philanthropists made a big difference in health care”

  1. Mbira Ndodzangu Reply

    thank you my frie

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  2. rosalie pe Reply

    this is an amazing! and terrible at the same time

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  3. V4EKKRINH4RT Reply

    I used to have peace… but then I had a serious hand injury at work, and after 5 surgeries in 8 months I was addicted to Vicodin… I kicked this habit cold turkey with HORRIBLE withdrawals that lasted 3 weeks- 3 weeks of hell…. Then began my alcohol addiction, and it has me by the balls. I've been drunk every fkng night for the past 3 yrs straight. It's ruined my marriage and I've hurt people..I've been in jail for disorderly conduct. I irresponsibly allowed one of my dogs to get loose, and he ended up with his skull crushed on the highway… My mom is in hell because of my stupid fkng ass… I hate my job and sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, as the saying goes…I'm manic-depressive also… I'm only happy if I have alcohol, weed, and pain killers; otherwise, I'm fkng miserable.. I need help. I had a phychiatrist tell me that my trajectory is suicide and/ or prison.. I'm hanging by a thread, it feels. Since this past Wed, I've said, "Today I won't drink." But I drink. THursday, same fkng thing.. Friday, ditto… What the fk do I do? I've called off over 30x this year at work; it's a fkng miracle that I still have a job. I hate my fucking job (I know, everyone does)… How do I make the first step? And what IS the first step???

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  4. V4EKKRINH4RT Reply

    This chick is making me cry… I need fkng help

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  5. Mike Hinckley Reply

    I listened to what she had to say, and I'm glad it worked for her. I listened to her advice, and it simply made me feel sad and ashamed at not achieving her success. I find my safest, happiest moments are when I'm out in the "messy" life she describes, but away from other people and manmade stuff. For many, that might be considered a true basis of chaos. For me, it simply feels reasonably safe. I've been unable to make sense of people, and after several decades of trying, I'm losing my interest in doing so.

    But I cheer her on in her endeavors, and to the extent her words make sense for others, I think that's a good thing. I wish her well.

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  6. TopHatKitty Reply

    "sensitive is just how I was made." Me too.

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  7. Bridgett Matthews Reply

    Very Brave..Doing some research for a project and came across this. Thank you Glennon

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  8. Yasmine Xo Reply

    There is so much truth in this Ted talk, I have goosebumps. Thanks for this one!

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  9. James McGuirk Reply

    THAT is Courage and Strength. Maybe having a "mental illness" and learning to live in the world that is sometimes critically judgemental, is a real "superpower"

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  10. Marshall Curtis Reply

    At 13:00, there must be a disconnect in her presentation, or else I am missing something. For she says on the one hand that she now is "not perfect", but is a "fully human being". Then a few seconds later, she says she is still "exactly the same person" ("scared, anxious, oily, ALL the time") that she was before. I don't get it.

    My point is this, what praytell is the point of going through all this mental health treatment hell ("dark night of the soul") if she is still "exactly the same person" as she was before?

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  11. Hannah Friedle Reply


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  12. krazy kate Reply

    Thank you so much for your talk. I can relate so closely to so much of what you were saying. So this is such a big help and has given me some encouraging ways to think about my life. Thank you!!!

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  13. Paisley Spin Reply

    The elephant in the room is called "Socially Approved and Oprah-Excused Parental Neglect." Oprah literally lives to brush parental neglect under the carpet, and make excuses for it when she is forced to acknowledge it. An 8 year old with bulimia? She was neglected by her parents! And I guarantee no one will acknowledge it, unless they are excusing it. Being a loving parent is not as important as having 'nice clothes' and a 'nice house.' Our society is a joke.

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  14. W Mmmm Reply

    In the mental hospital there was no pretending. What hospital were you in? "Fake it 'till you make it" was what I was told. From the most educated doctor to the least experienced therapist/counselor. I know it is supposed to be some zen like, power of positive thinking

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