Whole Health Institute builds, amplifies, and advocates for whole health transformation.

The Background

Founded in 2019 by philanthropist Alice Walton, the non-profit Institute addresses physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being by working with health systems, partners, employers, and communities. The concept of Whole Health Institute was driven by research revealing that the United States has the highest level of health care spending worldwide and relatively low rankings in overall health. The pandemic further highlighted inequalities, mental health issues, and the need for a whole-person approach to health care—it also revealed the power of communities to be a force for change.

A sister to the Institute, the Alice L. Walton School of Medicine was founded in 2021 to offer a four-year medical degree-granting program that integrates conventional medicine with holistic principles and self-care practices. Walton’s deep commitment to building a holistic approach to health care includes a partnership with Cleveland Clinic and the Washington Regional Medical System to create a transformative health care system. As part of this effort, the Institute will assess, develop, and integrate whole health practices and services across the continuum of care for the new health system, while the School of Medicine will help establish a regional academic health system in Northwest Arkansas.

By redesigning how education is taught and the delivery models, the Institute, School of Medicine, and health system partners can improve overall health and quality of life for the Northwest Arkansas community, and be a model for health care transformation.

The Team

Whole Health Institute is passionate about putting people at the center of their own health journey. The team is made of clinicians, strategists, and change-makers who seek to empower and engage partners and individuals to make whole health accessible to all.

Alice L. Walton, Founder and Board Chair

Philanthropist Alice Walton founded Whole Health Institute in 2019 to help improve the health and well-being of all people in all communities. Through her own health care experiences, Alice recognized the need for better processes and health outcomes. She discovered that a whole-person approach with health care professionals focused on physical, mental and spiritual health provided the most beneficial results, and thus founded the Institute to increase access for others to this transformative approach.

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A non-profit organization, the Institute strives to create fundamental changes to the way communities, employers, government policies, and health systems work together to help individuals take charge of their health and live their fullest, most meaningful life.

In addition to the Institute, Alice Walton founded a new degree-granting non-profit, the Alice L. Walton School of Medicine and Health Sciences. The medical school will help students rise to the health challenges of the 21st century through a reimagination of American medical education that incorporates whole health to help people live healthier and happier lives. The curriculum will combine traditional and conventional medicine with integrative techniques based on whole health principles.

Providing Access to Art + Nature

In 2005, Alice Walton founded Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art as a non-profit charitable organization for all to enjoy. Located on 120-acres of Ozark woodlands in Bentonville, Arkansas, Crystal Bridges’ mission is to welcome all to celebrate the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of nature. Since opening, it has welcomed 5.6 million visitors from around the globe, with no cost for admission. Alice serves as a board member and chair emeritus of the museum’s Board of Directors.

Sharing Art Across the US

Building on Crystal Bridges’ success in sharing masterworks of American art from its Arkansas location, Alice Walton established the Art Bridges Foundation in 2017 to expand access to American art across the nation by providing funding support to museums of all sizes in order to create projects that educate, inspire, and deepen engagement with local communities.

Art Bridges’ goal is to get art out of vaults and in front of people across the country. It has its own art collection, and it also partners with museums with vast collections to share art with institutions throughout the US. To date, Art Bridges has worked with 170 organizations in 46 states, funding 400+ projects that have reached more than 2.4 million people.

Creating Access for All

In 2017, Alice founded the Alice L. Walton Foundation, which works to enhance the quality of life for individuals through providing access to offerings that improve well-being and create diverse and inclusive communities. The Alice L. Walton Foundation focuses on efforts to expand and diversify educational opportunities that can help put a secure, fulfilling, and self-determined life in reach for more Americans.

Alice has supported major initiatives to increase teacher diversity, expand art programs at universities, and diversify museum leadership. Through this work, the foundation strives to deliver meaningful and lasting change to individuals and communities most in need.

Recently, the Alice L. Walton Foundation and Cleveland Clinic announced a joint initiative to identify ways of providing access to Cleveland Clinic’s renowned specialty care services in Northwest Arkansas. The organizations are currently assessing specialty care needs in the region and developing recommendations for healthcare solutions to best meet those needs.

Alice is also a member of the Walton Family Foundation, which works in three areas: improving K-12 education, protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and investing in its home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta.

Chris DeBernard, Senior Director, Behavioral Health

Chris DeBernard, MD, designs, leads, and executes the behavioral health integration strategy for Whole Health Institute. This includes creation of stakeholder alignment, development of a behavioral health policy agenda, driving awareness of technology enabled opportunities to support access and equity, as well as aiding in development of the behavioral health curriculum at Alice L. Walton School of Medicine.

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Most recently, Dr. DeBernard served as Chief Medical Officer for Arisa Health, Inc., which was created in 2020 via a merger that brought together four of Arkansas’ leading community mental health centers to form the state’s premier integrated behavioral health system. In addition to direct client care and managing a team of 33 psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners, Dr. DeBernard oversaw the implementation of three new primary care clinics, each collocated inside an Arisa Health clinic via support from a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic expansion grant furnished by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. These new clinics used a whole health framework to provide whole-person-centered care for individuals with serious mental illness (SMI) under a shared roof with their behavioral health providers. This merging of physical and behavioral health care reduces barriers and increases access for clients with SMI, leading to improved outcomes in health. 
Prior to his role with Arisa Health, Inc., Dr. DeBernard was a staff psychiatrist with Vantage Point of Northwest Arkansas. In addition to acute client care, he implemented a detox treatment regimen for individuals with alcohol and benzodiazepine use disorders that relied on fewer controlled substances and improved client safety. Dr. DeBernard also introduced a detox treatment regimen for individuals with opioid use disorder that focused on harm reduction and initiated clients on medication assisted treatment for opioid use disorder prior to discharge. In response to physician complaints regarding workflow, he developed a set of guidelines to allow provisional acceptance of clients from local emergency rooms based on their level of medical and psychiatric complexity. This tool allowed Vantage Point to be more competitive by decreasing time-to-accept for clients as well as improving physician satisfaction by decreasing interruptions.
Dr. DeBernard earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from the University of Virginia. He went on to receive a Doctor of Medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine, where he also completed a combined residency in internal medicine and psychiatry. Between his undergraduate degree and medical school, Dr. DeBernard spent time in the information technology consulting space and the liquefied natural gas engineering space.