Alice Walton to launch health care system

Authored by
Amanda Hull, PhD
Sr. Director of Health and Well-Being
Published on
January 3, 2021

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Alice Walton has proven to be a formidable player in the American art market after building a world class museum and filling it with masterworks in American art.

Now the developer of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton is preparing to flex her muscles in the healthcare arena.

“We have a system that is piecemeal at best and still not affordable for many, despite its annual costs, which are 17% of the nation’s GDP (gross domestic product),” Walton said in January at a meeting of the Northwest Arkansas Council, a regional economic development group. “We need a holistic approach that incorporates mind, body, and spirit. Whole health tools do exist around the country, and we want to be part of the solution to change healthcare.”

Walton’s contribution to the solution is formation of the Whole Health Institute, promoting a holistic and collaborative approach to regional healthcare that she hopes will become a national model.

The institute will be located on the grounds of Crystal Bridges, northwest of its additional parking lot. Ground is to be broken on the 75,000 square-foot building this spring with completion projected for 2023.

The health complex will include the Chopra Medical Library with a global collection of research journals that can be accessed by medical professionals, as well as laymen. The library is named for Deepak Chopra, a best-selling author and alternative medicine advocate.

That a health institute will be located on the grounds of a first-class art museum seems a bit incongruent. But those close to the project see it as a fit under the holistic health concept. They say that the location of the museum and the institute in a natural Ozark setting will allow people to explore healing through art, nature, and the surrounding architecture.

The institute’s approach to health will be based on self-care that will create less need for clinical and pharmaceutical treatments. The result, Walton said at the January economic development meeting, will be reduced healthcare costs and better health outcomes.

Designed to empower people to take charge of their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, the Whole Health model will allow patients to control their own healthcare plans, according to Dr. Tracy Gaudet, executive director of the institute.

Rather than adhering to doctor-developed treatment plans, a patient will provide doctors with personal health goals revolving around life balance, flexibility, longevity, and a general sense of fulfillment with life. The doctor will then work with the patient to develop health objectives that will allow the goals to be met. It may include taking cooking or exercise classes to lose weight and begin running in marathons, or it might mean taking yoga and practicing meditation to address stress-related ailments.

But the model will be a collaborative effort beyond just the patients and doctors. To achieve regional reform in approaches to healthcare, it will draw on collaboration among hospital systems, insurance providers, various types of health care providers, and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock. It will also require a change in healthcare attitudes within the community in general.

Initially, the institute will focus on regional healthcare delivery and partnering with healthcare systems to create strategies for providing whole healthcare. It will also work with employers to improve the health of their workers and reduce healthcare costs, and it will provide whole healthcare education to practicing medical workers, medical school students, those in emerging health professions, even school students.

Also among its focuses will be healthcare finance and policy and working with payers, such as insurance companies or Medicare, to move toward a value- and outcomes-based health system. Of course, that will mean advocacy for national healthcare reform.

Once the basics of the system are in place, the institute intends to create holistic health communities, making the region a sort of living laboratory that can set whole healthcare standards for the state and nation.

Walton predicts that under the institute’s approach, we can expect a future of increased well-being, less pain and fewer chronic health conditions, leading to reduced healthcare costs.

Are these lofty goals, requiring an all-inclusive change of attitudes from the community to patients and doctors to the hospital systems and insurers? Probably not with Walton’s drive and influence behind them.

When Walton began building her dream of Crystal Bridges, she had to go head to toe with the power elite of the American art world. She elbowed her way in, competing against such players as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to acquire some of America’s greatest works of art. She met with success and eventually gained the respect of America’s art establishment.

Why shouldn’t we believe she can meet with similar success in impacting our ailing healthcare system?