Community Members Celebrate Opening of Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

OWATONNA — Becoming a philanthropist wasn’t something Penny George had set out to do.

“I was a psychologist,” George said. “I was very happy doing that and my goal was to stay away from hospitals. I had no interest in changing them, but they say life is what happens when you’re planning something else.”

That was before a phone call in 1996.

“I came home from work on a cold February day to be greeted by a voice message on my answering machine telling me that it looks like I have breast cancer and that I should get a biopsy,” George said.

George’s treatment included a mastectomy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute in Minneapolis.

“[My treatment] was impeccable, and I have no complaints about my care at all, but I did realize that I was only of interest in terms of the body part and the disease,” she said. “There wasn’t really anything looking at the whole of me, and I felt like that should be different.

“I was determined to improve my odds of having this not come back, and I made up my own healing plan. I sought out acupuncture to help me deal with hot flashes, massage and yoga to address the needs of my body. I read a lot about nutritional approaches to healing and dramatically improved my diet, I used guided imagery CDs to try and visualize a long and healthy life, but it wasn’t the individual therapies that were so transformative for me — as important as they were — it was the fact that I was in charge of my own healing.”

And it’s because of George’s own experience that the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing was founded in 2003 at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis and is now the national leader in holistic care, focused on the mind, body and spirit, according to Allina Health.

On Tuesday, the community joined the Owatonna Hospital, part of Allina Health, in celebrating the opening of the Penny George Institute outpatient clinic with an open house.

During the open house, the community was welcome to watch brief demonstrations, tour the facility and enjoy refreshments as well as meet George and Dr. Courtney Baechler, cardiologist and vice president of the Penny George Institute, through a brief presentation about the institute.

The outpatient clinic opened its doors last month to patients for acupuncture and medical massage therapy.

The institute, which can be found by entering Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Center on the west side of the hospital, includes two acupuncture rooms, one massage therapy room and a consultation room.

And Owatonna Hospital is now one of seven hospitals in Minnesota that offer integrative therapies through the Penny George Institute.

“When we first started designing this facility about eight or nine years ago, we did focus groups and one of the things in the focus groups that came out loud and clear is people wanted us to become more involved with integrative, holistic [care],” said Dave Albrecht, Owatonna Hospital president. “We always had that in mind that we were going to come to this point, where we were going to offer these services, and finally at the beginning of February we were able to realize that part of the feedback.”

Albrecht said the facility was made possible by Jerry and Carol Deetz, the Penny George Foundation, Owatonna Hospital Foundation, Owatonna Hospital Auxiliary, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and others.

“We’re grateful to be able to bring all this together and offer it to our community,” he said. “Thank you for celebrating with us today.”

George said the institute is excited to see where the clinic goes in Owatonna, especially with the open house turnout that included more than 50 people.

“This is a fabulously progressive community,” she said.

Patients can speak with their physicians about their integrative care options.

For questions or to schedule an appointment, call 507-977-2828.