Alice Walton: New Institute to Address ‘Broken’ Health Care System

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Walmart Inc. heiress Alice Walton said the health care system in the United States is broken and, to fix it, she is starting the Whole Health Institute in Bentonville.

Walton made the announcement Wednesday at the Northwest Arkansas Council’s winter meeting at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Walton is a former chairwoman of the council and is the founder of Crystal Bridges.

Exact details such as when the institute will open, where it will be located specifically and the scope and cost of the enterprise were not released. Several executives who will run the institute gave presentations, including Executive Director Tracy Gaudet and Policy Director James Marzolf.

The idea behind Whole Health, Walton said, is a more holistic medical approach that treats the patients and not just the symptoms of disease. Walton, the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, called the nation’s health care system “disease care.”

“It doesn’t take a medical expert to know that our health system is failing,” Walton said. “It excludes so much of what we need to live healthy lives. Our system does not have a core competency in engaging the person to optimize their health, self care and wellbeing. It is a disease care system and not a health care system. The system is reactive and piecemeal and most importantly for all of us, unaffordable.”

The Chopra Library will be attached to the institute. The library is named after Walton’s friend and alternative medicine advocate Deepak Chopra. The library will be a collection, Walton said, of global scientific and global research into health.

Walton said the United States leads the world in spending on health care but ranks 37th in life expectancy. The nation spends 17% of its Gross National Product on health care with unsatisfactory results, Walton said.

“The mission is to radically transform health care so that Whole Health and well being is affordable and accessible to all people in all communities,” Walton said. “It’s an opportunity for the region to design deploy and implement the future of health care. 

“Once we create this new system here we can spread it throughout the state and throughout the nation.”

Gaudet said the driving theme behind Whole Health is to make it aspiration based. Promoting a person’s self care will result in better health than clinical and pharmaceutical treatments.

“Health care doesn’t change lifestyle,” Gaudet said. “It is hard to change behavior. We have a system problem.

“We have to go beyond that. We have to focus on the whole person.”

Something has to change in the United States, Gaudet said, because the current system is unsustainable.

“We will no longer be able to be globally competitive if we don’t address health care and health care costs,” Gaudet said. 

Earlier financial results are promising, Marzolf said. More than 200,000 veterans participated in Whole Health initiatives through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs the past couple of years and those who took part showed a 24.4% reduction in health care costs in a year compared to a 6% increase in the department as a whole.