Penny George Institute for Health and Healing


Sixth of a series on integrative healing in the Twin Cities

The Penny George Institute for Health and Healing has been providing complementary services bedside to patients at Abbott Northwestern Hospital since 2003, and to clients in an outpatient clinical setting since 2004. The institute’s executive director, Lori Knutson, realized early on that integrative healing – a blend of conventional medicine and complementary techniques and programs – is the true path to healing.

Knutson’s broad experience started back in the 1980s, specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation, specifically traumatic injury – spine and brain. “I came to acknowledge that conventional medicine had its limitations – great for situations like emergencies and infections – but not really addressing optimizing people’s lives by empowering them in self-care,” she says. Incorporating complementary therapies into her own clinical practice, Knutson went on to start programs at Woodwinds in Woodbury, as well as work with corporations to create integrative approaches to employee wellness. Her trailblazing experience is how the George Foundation chose her to lead the way to creating a program on optimal healing environments, which focuses on the physical environment and the relationship aspects of healing.

“We are creating a more healing surrounding through the colors on the walls, sounds, smells, artwork, as well as helping the nurses and physicians to be more engaged in a therapeutic and healing relationship versus completing tasks,” she says. “It’s through our transformative nurse training – which incorporates holistic nursing principles, presence and training in complementary therapies – that we are able to facilitate change in the relationship with the patients, helping them with pain, anxiety and stress. Close to 200 nurses have finished this 48 hour training program.”

The Penny George Institute is on the forefront of integrative medicine, and it continues to expand its offerings. The institute recently added both an integrative holistic fitness center and a research center. Knutson says the future of integrative healing is a two-fold initiative, both national and local.

“On a national level, in February 2009, the Institute of Medicine held a summit in Washington, D.C., the most well-attended summit they ever had,” Knutson said, “where all the health care decision makers gathered to build health reform law with language built in about integrative medicine, practitioners and complementary therapies as being part of the reform initiative. It is a national picture moving forward now and our job is to make sure that it unfolds.”

Locally, Allina is expanding integrative services across the system. In November 2010, a comprehensive integrative cancer center is opening in Coon Rapids, and the St. Paul pain clinic for chronic pain patients is expanding. A focus on partnerships with corporations to teach fundamentals to transforming employee health also is part of the vision.

“A lot is going on that I think is really a movement around health versus health care, which is around medicine,” Knutson says. “Our goal is to be as far upstream in health so that when people need health care, they are empowered to make the right decisions.

“It is the Western culture paradigm. We only look at our health when something is going wrong. So the biggest hurdle is changing our thought on self-responsibly. We have to start making the right choices as individuals.”

Knutson stresses that the economics of health have to change. “Our third party payers, insurance, government payers need to begin to look at reimbursing for health promotion and prevention as much as they do for disease management.”

The true picture, she says, can only be found by looking at the experiences of patients who are helped by integrative healing.

“There are so many different stories. Recently, there was a woman in her late 30s – dying of cancer – who had a teenage daughter. The patient worked with our music therapist to record a song of her own words written to her daughter. On the day the mother died, the CD was given to the daughter. These kind of profound experiences are what we get to be a part of. It makes it all worthwhile.”

The staff of the Penny George Institute are first and foremost health educators. Whenever they treat a patient, they consider it an opportunity to teach about self-care.

“We are not just about treating people differently with different options,” Knutson says. “Our goal is to help people see their health differently, to really understand how they can build their own set of skills for health and healing. We are partners with them.”

The Penny George Institute for Health and Healing is located at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, 2833 Chicago Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55407. For further information, call 612.863.3333 or visit

Next month: The conclusion of this series, an interview with Dr. Tim Culbert, Director of Integrative Medicine, at Childrens Hospital.

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Pam Olson
Pam Olson is a recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Holistic Health Studies program at Saint Catherine University. She has a long history of interest in metaphysical studies and actually worked with The Edge in 2001 on the first Expo at the Minneapolis Convention Center. She is trained in Healing Touch, Reiki and Magnified Healing energy-based therapies and has her own practice in Burnsville, MN. She can be reached at [email protected].


  1. There are many effective healing methods you can use as an alternative or complement to the allopathic paradigm used in mainstream medicine. Scientific studies and new discoveries continue to validate the underlying precepts of time-tested technologies that use:

    •Essential oils and aromatherapy

    •Homeopathic and other subtle energy healing methods

    •The healing properties of water

    •The healing energy of sunlight and color

    •Sound vibration and prayer to heal

    •Living, raw whole foods and herbs to heal and counteract dis-ease

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