America’s healthiest hospitals: these hospitals offer the best care for your body and soul

America’s healthiest hospitals: these hospitals offer the best care for your body and soul

Katherine Gallia

A HOSPITAL STAY IS RARELY SOMETHING to look forward to. But across the country, a growing number of facilities are transforming what it means to be an inpatient. Along with full-service conventional care, these hospitals offer natural therapies like acupuncture, guided imagery, and massage as adjunct or stand-alone treatments. They also boast a staff of open-minded doctors and nurses and feature warm, comfortable interiors.

Natural Health looked high and low for these innovative hospitals, polling more than so leaders in the field of natural medicine. To make our short list, hospitals had to be full-service, have 100 or more beds, and offer at least 10 alternative therapies. We also considered the scope of their complementary program (how many patients seen per month) and their level of patient financial assistance. Read on about our winners.

1 California Pacific Medical Center



BEDS: 1,250

SCOPE: Treats 2,000 people with

complementary medicine monthly



Craniosacral Therapy

Herbal Medicine

Jinsin Jitsu (acupressure)


Traditional Chinese Medicine



We gave highest honors to California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) for its Institute for Health and Healing, which has the oldest holistic roots of our five picks. The hospital’s involvement in complementary medicine began more than 20 years ago and grew out of the “extremely rich and diverse” healing tradition of the San Francisco Bay area, explains William Stewart, M.D., medical director of the Institute for Health and Healing. It also developed from one patient’s enlightened idea. In 1978, local community activist Angelica Thierot was hospitalized at a San Francisco medical center that is now part of CPMC. Dismayed at the facility’s impersonal and rushed atmosphere, Thierot approached its chief of medicine with a vision: Create a hospital that has a nurturing, spalike environment and teaches patients and their families to stay well in the first place. The chief of medicine liked Thierot’s ideas so much he asked her to form a planning board of lay people and health care professionals. Eventually, the board created an inpatient ward that employed a blend of physical, mental, and spiritual healing techniques. Called the Planetree Unit, it later became a nonprofit organization that today trains dozens of hospitals across the United States who want to adopt holistic therapies.

CPMC received national media attention in 1998 for its research on remote healing (such as praying for other people). The study, published in the Western Journal of Medicine, found that advanced AIDS patients who received remote healing required 85 percent fewer days of hospitalization than those who received no prayers. Currently, researchers at the hospital are studying acupuncture for acute stroke.

What Sets It Apart

In spite of its large size, the hospital takes great pains to present an intimate, inviting atmosphere to incoming patients. For instance, people entering the main entrance find a 36-foot-wide labyrinth painted on the concrete walkway; patients are encouraged to walk this circular maze daily to help them meditate and heal faster. The hospital staff plays a videotape in all patients’ rooms after they arrive to introduce them to available conventional and natural therapies. Any CPMC patient can get guided imagery, spiritual counseling, and expressive art therapy free of charge. (Other therapies, like acupuncture, are available for a fee but may be subsidized by the institute’s $30,000 patient assistance fund.)

We also ranked CPMC high because it runs several education programs to keep community members healthy. For example, once a year, 500 to 1,000 people attend a free eight-week evening “mini medical school” that covers conventional and natural health topics. CPMC also offers 36 six- to 10-week seminars, such as senior yoga and mindfulness meditation, for a small fee. For those who can’t afford to pay, a scholarship program covers the cost.

BONUS: CPMC has the only holistic gift shop of our top five hospitals. Instead of candy and fake flowers, the Healing Store sells vitamins and supplements, meditation cushions, yoga mats, and more.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: California Pacific Medical Center’s Institute for Health and Healing; 415-600-3660;

2 Midwestern Regional Medical Center/ Cancer Treatment Centers of America



BEDS: 95

SCOPE: Treats 54 people with Complementary medicine monthly



Laughter/Humor Therapy

Naturopathic Medicine

Nutritional Therapy


Tai Chi


In the early part of the 1970s, Richard Stephenson, an investment banker from Barrington, Ill., lost his mother to cancer. In 1975, appalled by the quality of care she had received, he invested money to recruit top cancer specialists and other doctors to form a full-service community hospital in the small town of Zion, Ill., 45 miles north of Chicago.

Now called the Midwestern Regional Medical Center (MRMC), the hospital still specializes in cancer care; two-thirds of its patients come for cancer treatment. In fact, its oncology department became known as the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in 1988 and has since exported its idea of complementary cancer care to hospitals in Goshen, Ind., and Tulsa, Okla., and clinics in Hampton Roads, Va., and Seattle. At MRMC and these satellite locations, mind-body therapies, nutritional supplements, and naturopathic medicine are a standard part of cancer treatment (in addition to conventional methods such as radiation and chemotherapy). These holistic therapies are also available to all other inpatients.

Today, any patient at MRMC can select a naturopathic doctor as his or her primary care provider. And the hospital pharmacy stocks herbs, supplements, and homeopathic remedies, as well as conventional drugs.

What Sets It Apart

When we asked our panel of natural health experts to name the complementary hospital program they most admired, they most commonly cited the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, headquartered at MRMC. Even though the flagship hospital fell five beds short of our 100-bed minimum, we gave it extra credit for being so well regarded. “They have the most effective and comprehensive integration of complementary and alternative medicine of any hospital that I am aware of in the country,” says Joseph E. Pizzorno Jr., N.D., a naturopathic physician and co-founder of Bastyr University in Kenmore, Wash.

Patients at MRMC have a strong say in how the hospital operates. When the hospital expanded in 1992, a patient focus group requested–and got–such amenities as outdoor views from every patient room, hardwood floors and paneling, and a rooftop solarium. And the lobby has marble floors and a chandelier. You’d never guess that the entrance belongs to a medical facility, says Julie Martin, N.D., a naturopathic physician at MRMC. “Patients say how much it feels like a hotel.”

All patients, no matter their religion, are encouraged to use prayer as part of the healing process. Doctors, nurses, and other staff members often initiate healing prayers with hospital patients and their families. “Using faith as a healing tool is an important aspect of what the hospital offers,” says Martin.

BONUS: MRMC delivers complementary therapies to admitted patients regardless of the type of insurance coverage they might have. When insurance does not fully cover complementary therapies, MRMC frequently absorbs a good share of those costs.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Cancer Treatment Centers of America; 800-577-1255;

3 Longmonth United Hospital 3 LONGMONT, COLO.


BEDS: 143

SCOPE: Treats 660 people with complementary medicine monthly


Alexander Technique

Art Therapy

Craniosacral Therapy

Guided Imagery


Pet Therapy


The natural medicine program at Longmont testifies to the power of patients to demand and receive holistic care. In 1993, Michelle Bowman, a certified gerontology nurse at Longmont, located in a suburb of Boulder, Colo., formed a community focus group of 12 older adults and former patients to find out how the small conventional hospital could do better. The group advocated for programs that didn’t just treat illness, but that promoted wellness, like tai chi, massage therapy, and herbal medicine.

Initially, the administration gave the idea little credence. But the citizens’ enthusiasm was contagious. “This group was so excited about the possibility of this type of health care that they organized a community fund-raiser,” says Bowman, now the hospital’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Program director. With the $5,000 they raised, they sent Bowman to cities in China to learn about unconventional therapies from the Chinese Commission on Aging. Today, the hospital employs 28 alternative practitioners, including acupuncturists (Bowman herself just recently finished training to become a licensed acupuncturist) and art therapists. “All of our CAM practitioners are on staff, not contract labor. They are an integral part of the delivery of care for our hospital,” Bowman says.

What Sets It Apart

Longmont’s architecture and design are the antithesis of institutional. A five-story patient tower that opened in early 2000 features 91 private rooms that are one-third larger than typical hospital rooms. All rooms are decorated with natural fibers and earthy colors like adobe and grass green and have wood floors. Each level houses a library with Internet access and a central family room, dining room, and full kitchen. Visitors to Longmont’s patient clinic can stay overnight on armchairs that fold out into beds.

When patients settle into their rooms at Longmont, they’re given a room-service style menu that doesn’t just say what’s for breakfast. The 12- to 15-page document describes the hospital’s policies and services, including its wide array of natural therapies. Patients can request natural therapies directly or can be referred by their nurse or physician.

BONUS: Expectant mothers are offered massages free of charge. This summer, Longmont opened a 19-bed birthing center with Jacuzzis in every room.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Longmont United Hospital; 303-651-5188;

4 Allegheny General Hospital



BEDS: 698

SCOPE: Treats 250 people with complementary medicine monthly




Ayurvedic Medicine

Herbal Medicine

Laughter/Humor Therapy

Music Therapy


It took five years of one woman’s persistence to get natural therapies on the roster of this 115-year-old conventional hospital. Kathleen Krebs, R.N., a registered nurse at Allegheny for 25 years, had studied yoga and meditation since the 1970s but found it difficult to share her knowledge of mind-body medicine with her colleagues. Finally, she says, “I decided to come out of the closet and start speaking to any physician who would listen to me, to try and get a champion.” In 1997, she allied herself with Paul Lebovitz, M.D., a newly hired gastroenterologist and hepatologist whose clinical experience told him that many of his patients’ illnesses had a mind-body component. Together, Krebs and Lebovitz got approval to begin hiring alternative practitioners to offer natural therapies in the hospital’s digestive health center.

Soon word spread throughout the hospital and Krebs began receiving referrals from doctors and nurses in virtually every other department. Now the director of the hospital’s integrated medicine department, Krebs is helping to develop a natural program tailored for the cardiothoracic (heart and lung) department.

Many of the staff take advantage of the hospital’s natural therapies. For example, in March 2001, Jody Crissman, nursing coordinator at the digestive center and a new mother, needed to have a tooth extracted and wanted to avoid drugs because she was breast-feeding. With the help of pre- and post-operative acupuncture, she aced the procedure without any anesthesia or pain medicine.

What Sets It Apart

Of all the hospitals in our top five, Allegheny contributes the most toward the cost of alternative therapies. All of them are free to inpatients, except for massage and acupuncture, which are available on a fee-for-service basis. But Krebs is always looking for ways to provide care to all patients. “Patients of ours who don’t have the disposable income to pay for massages can get free massages,” says Krebs, who arranged for about a dozen students from a nearby massage therapy school to volunteer every Tuesday and Thursday.

At Allegheny, a patient’s first line of “medication” is often a natural remedy. For example, Lebovitz initially offers a peppermint tablet to calm intestinal spasms for patients with irritable bowel syndrome. And in a welcome change from managed-care rush, gastrointestinal patients may have several 45-minute consultations with a gastroenterologist, a physician who specializes in nutrition, a natural medicine practitioner, a spiritual counselor, and a psychologist. The clinicians then come together to develop a personalized plan of care that may include acupuncture, herbs, stress management, spiritual counseling, and conventional medication.

BONUS: Allegheny staffers are training volunteers to connect with patients by offering hand massages.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Allegheny General Hospital; 412-442-7163;

America’s Healthiest Hospitals

5 Beth Israel Medical Center 5



BEDS: 1,368

SCOPE: Treats 1,500 people with complementary medicine monthly






Massage Therapy

Native American Medicine


Holistic medicine got started in this world-class hospital in 1992 when it opened the Samuels Planetree Unit, a 34-bed coronary ward designed to follow the principles of the nonprofit Planetree group (for more about Planetree, see page 60). For example, each Samuels patient works with a single nurse and has free access to his or her medical charts.

In 1994, Beth Israel Medical Center (BIMC) received a $500,000 grant to fund a five-year program to educate the hospital staff about holistic medicine. Integrative medicine was formally adopted by the outpatient center last year and will soon go hospitalwide.

What Sets It Apart

Of all our top hospitals, BIMC offers the widest array of therapies. Patients can choose any of its practitioners–from Native American healers to acupuncturists–as their primary care physician.

Pre-surgery patients can learn guided imagery, breathing techniques, and more through the hospital’s outpatient clinic, the Continuum Center for Health and Healing. And afterward, they can opt for Therapeutic Touch, a type of energy healing, for pain relief.

BONUS: According to the principles of feng shui, examining rooms are on the north side of the outpatient clinic to speed healing.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Beth Israel Medical Center; 212-420-2000;

RELATED ARTICLE: The Runners up.

While these six programs didn’t make our top cut, their innovations stood out,


LIVINGSTON, N.J. Cardiac patients at St. Barnabas can consult with alternative practitioners and receive guided imagery, massage therapy, reflexology, and visualization in addition to conventional treatment. The hospital also runs integrative oncology and women’s health programs. (973-322-5000;


LOS ANGELES This facility provides free acupuncture and massage to all surgery patients. And it sends patients to a website where they can download biofeedback software, guided imagery, and music therapy. (818-995-5000;


MINNEAPOLIS Insurance covers natural therapies for 80 percent of patients at Hennepin. The hospital specializes in treating alcoholism and other addictions with acupuncture. (612-347-2121;


THE DALLES, ORE. All of this center’s staff, from housekeepers to physicians, are hired based on their attitudes toward patient care. Pre-surgery massage is free to all. Patients and their families are invited to use the center’s three quiet rooms and two meditation gardens. (541-296-1111;


WAIMEA, HAWAII This hospital is one of the few to offer a residency program for naturopathic doctors, who provide inpatient care at no extra charge. Healing touch services are offered to every patient, and the head of housekeeping diffuses essential oils like lavender and bergamot throughout the hospital. (808-885-4444;


PITTSBURGH Patients here learn how to eat right, cope with stress, become physically fit (mainly through tai chi), and heal with spirituality. Television sets broadcast nature images, meditation lessons, and music. Through a partnership with a local orchestra, a symphony musician can come to play in patients’ rooms. (412-647-2345;

Katherine Gallia is a freelance writer in Sacramento, Calif.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Weider Publications

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group