What We Want Will Take a Huge Effort: A Conversation with Integrative Medicine Philanthropist Ruth Westreich

Summary: Ruth Westreich assembled her own integrative team long before she became a philanthropist in integrative medicine. The former marketing professional is outspoken on what the field needs to mature into a transformational force in US health care. Westreich speaks to new kinds of collaboration. She reflects on challenges and opportunities in linking with stakeholders such as employers, pharmaceutical firms and the licensed natural healthcare professions. A Bravewell member and backer of integrative cardiologist Mimi Guarneri, MD, Westreich is excited about the opportunities for creative healing arts and the emerging Grantmakers in Health interest group relative to integrative practices. Westreich’s perspectives stimulate musings on what those promoting integrative health care must do to help the field become one of the most significant social movements of our time.

Ruth Westreich’s professional career includes extensive work in marketing and as a fine artist. One senses her artistry in the look and feel of her Southern California home. Her marketing experience quickly becomes evident as she shapes comments about her passion as a philanthropist for the growth and expansion of what she reluctantly agrees to call “integrative medicine.”


Ruth Westreich

Westreich doesn’t like the label. She prefers “whole person health care.” She likes the accent on health care rather than medicine. Yet she uses the term because she believes that the horse is already out of the barn. She believes we need a broad collaboration and integrative medicine has already been chosen as the banner. Westreich forecasts that by 2015-2020 “integrative medicine will be one of the biggest movements in the country.”

I interviewed Westreich in her home in January then followed-up more recently. She fits the demographic of many of the leading philanthropists in integrative medicine. She is an early baby-boomer, more a child of the 1950s than the 1960s. She is vital, engaged and engaging. Personal health concerns and self care practices give her the experience of integrative care that motivates her philanthropy. Like many of her colleagues, her spouse has had an exceedingly successful business career that supports her passion. Stanley Westreich founded and ran Washington, DC-area Westfield Realty for 40 years, serving also for over 15 years as a director of Capital One.  

Quotes from Mahatma Gandhi and
Margaret Mead urge one to right
action from the home page of
Westreich’s website.



Ruth Westreich’s interests as a philanthropist have included the Bravewell Collaborative and the work of integrative cardiologist Mimi Guarneri, MD at Scripps. She is also involved in two areas that have pioneered integrative care, via the Institute for Palliative Medicine and the San
Diego Hospice
and through creative arts therapies. Her website greets one with Mahatma Gandhi’s quote about being the change you wish to see. Just below is Margaret Mead, appealing to all outnumbered, underdog activists: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Westreich and I spoke about a wide range of
subjects that are close to the integrative care movement. Here are
edited excerpts of the interviews.


Integrator: Readers will want to know how you came to this field. We all have our stories. What do you share of the health issues that got you involved?

Westreich: My body’s mode my whole adult life has been running with high inflammation, chronic inflammation, for some 45 years now. So I am susceptible to the kinds of things associated with that: muscle pain, joint pain, connective tissue issues. There’s no cure. Mainstream medicine’s response has been, “here, we’ll give you a pain pill.” I haven’t wanted that and haven’t gone there.

Integrator: So then what have you found helpful?


Bravewell: A meaningful influencer fior Westreich’s work

Westreich: I do whatever works for me. It probably starts with my functional medicine guy. He’s a chiropractor. I’ve had chiropractic since age 11. But that doesn’t mean I get my bones cracked every week. He’s also wonderful with nutrition and environmental medicine. I have an acupuncturist. I have two massage therapists. One is excellent at lymph drainage. The other is into more energy work. She’s very good with flower essences. Then there is yoga, exercise, nutrition. I’ve assembled my own integrative team before there was “integrative medicine.”    

Integrator: A favorite pass-time in this field is deciding what to call what it is we are involved in. What do you prefer?

Westreich: If you look at things from a preventive perspective, continuous good health is a matter of tweaking. Disease incubates and shows itself in a bad environment. Good health is a matter of tweaking all the way along. This is a functional medicine concept. If we could just introduce functional medicine concepts into the medical schools, we could change all of health care. Continuous tweaking is treating the whole person. I’d like to see it called whole person health care as opposed to just medicine. This should be a health and wellness focus. But “integrative medicine” is the brand that’s been accepted and has already made headway. It’s time to go with it.

Integrator: So, do you think there is a real movement afoot for integrative medicine?

“We need more collaboration, to gather
more momentum, to reach the critical point.
The tipping point.
People will need
to leave their own agendas at the door.”


Westreich: Of course. But what we have is pocketed groups everywhere, moving their own cause forward, their own agendas. We need more collaboration, to gather more momentum, to reach the critical point. The tipping point. People will need to leave their own agendas at the door. By 2015-2020 integrative medicine will be one of the biggest movements in the country.

Integrator: What do you think is the ideal consortium of interests that can move this?

WestreichYou must look at this from a process standpoint. This is way too big to think that one group can do it. If we want to change from disease care to health care, everyone needs to be involved. That’s sounds pie in the sky but it’s what we need. You need to get all the stakeholders to the table, working toward the same solution. We need to get the medical schools involved and the employers involved. We need to find one or more of the big pharma heads to weigh in with a new collaborative concept where they are agreeing that its not only pharmaceuticals that can help people but instead that they are part of teams, and that there are a lot of useful tools and practitioners.

Integrator: Now that is challenging. I know of one pharma company that is trying to do something multidisciplinary and national around pain care, through the Center for Practical Bioethics. I am not sure they’ve bought the full vision. The employers though. That makes such sense. I have been pushing that connection for 12 years.

  I don’t want to create an assumption
foundations can do the heavy lifting.
Everyone has to do heavy lifting.

Everyone has to do their part. This is not
work that can be successful
in isolation.”

Westreich: The employer fit, with people making changes in the workplace, where they spend most of their days, that is key. As a stakeholder they have an interest an interest in health and wellness. I know a fellow philanthropist who has had meeting after meeting with large employer after large employer trying to find one who will show real leadership in pushing a public agenda on an integrative model. There are some interested but they won’t come forward. But I would have thought that corporate American would be jumping all over this. This is hard for me to understand.

Integrator: Stumps me too. I recently aggregated some studies on cost savings. You would think they’d be all over this. Have you an explanation?

Westreich: Maybe they need to have better cover and don’t want to hitch their wagons to a small group. Maybe if a larger consortium with more clout came to them, that would be appealing. It may also be because they are waiting to see if government will start a big program with subsidies for participation. They may be thinking why pay for it themselves if that’s coming. 


Mimi Guarneri, MD: Integrative cardiologist is a Westreich beneficiary

Integrator: I just wrote a piece that made the case that there is, in fact, big money in integrative health care. It’s just that the big money is in cost savings. And every dollar saved is a dollar taken out of someone else’s pocket.

Westreich: It’s not just out of someone else’s pockets. It’s out of some of the biggest pockets. It’s the AMA, the medical devices, the pharmaceutical companies. They have built this up systematically. We took a horrible turn with direct marketing to consumers. The pharmaceuticals have done this brilliantly. They do the marketing. The consumer goes to the doctor and says ‘I need this drug.’ Then they create new diseases. Same pattern. This has become the model.

Integrator: It does feel utterly impossible sometimes, then you have to remind yourself of the advances in the last 15 years. So what I think is, like you say: Bring everyone we can into the collaborative effort to move toward a new model. I have a challenging question that I have to ask, partly because of my work with the licensed ‘CAM” disciplines in the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care. I can’t help but notice when you mention stakeholders you don’t mention these disciplines that have the largest numbers of practitioners disposed toward whole person thinking and care. These chiropractors and acupuncturists and massage therapists and naturopathic doctors are out delivering that care, today, to millions of people. There are some 350,000 of these licensed professionals out there, plus yoga therapists and others. Most are on your personal team. If I am thinking of a major consortium such as I hear you calling for, to hasten this transformation, they’d be at the table. I see them as the foot soldiers, the committed, the frontlines, the grassroots. Yet they are not typically there. Big philanthropy in integrative medicine basically doesn’t touch them, good as their initiatives might be. I find this as hard to fathom as you find the employer resistance to integrative models.

  There needs to be a new language. I hate
labels. I hate ‘integrative medicine.’ I hate ‘CAM.’
 These support separatist messages.”

Westreich: I certainly consider them stakeholders. I think that for me and for a lot of people to integrate these into our whole beings takes time. I’ve had my own team for a long time. I’ve created teams for others and they’ve done a lot of good. The challenge is in that this is a new paradigm. We have to create new language. I refer to these practitioners as a team. I think about them as a collective. I do think of them as part of this. Yet I am a small fish in this work. As much work as has been going on to bring the modalities together, there has been work to keep them apart. We are creating new territory going forward. There needs to be a new language. I hate labels. I hate “integrative medicine.” I hate “CAM.” These support separatist messages. I am not the convener. If I were, I would have them there. Our goal is to bring whole person care forward. The goal for these disciplines must not be to bring their disciplines forward. Their entitlement to be at the table is from your willingness to be part of the solution.   

Integrator: I was just at a chiropractic educator conference and the point made by a chiropractor credentialed in a Minnesota system was just that: “Don’t come into the room to advance chiropractic. Come to better patient-centered care.” Another area I wanted to touch on is your interest in creative arts therapies. ACCAHC just began a process of looking at this more closely. What role do you see for these therapies and practitioners?

Westreich: I don’t know if there is yet good collective verbiage to describe exactly what this group is. They are a parallel movement, going at it for 30 years, working better for whole person care. They’ve typically been involved in behavioral sciences, with woman and violence and children and violence and war. It’s not a cure-all or be-all and end-all. It’s another tool to put in your tool-kit for whole person care and maintenance. Creative arts can be great for pain, cancer survivors, debilitating chronic illnesses. This area is important to me as an artist.

 “The goal for these disciplines must not

be to bring their disciplines forward.
Their entitlement to be at the
table is from
their willingness to be part of the solution.”


Integrator: Did you make it to the March Grantmakers in Health meeting of funders for philanthropists in complementary medicine and integrative health? I was told that some 60 foundations showed up. Do you have a sense of what this group might mean? 

Westreich: I didn’t make it. But I do think this is probably going to be an important community. They have some heavy hitters. It’s simply easier to get people going when you have heavy hitters involved. I think that it can be really valuable. But I don’t want to create an assumption that foundations can do the heavy lifting. Everyone has to do heavy lifting. Everyone has to do their part. This is not work that can be successful in isolation.

: One last question. You say you are not a convener. You speak as a leader. What if you did step up more and convene?

Westreich: I have always fallen into leadership roles. I think everyone should be looking at a much broader scale about things than they are. It’s so important for the health of the county. We’re on a bad path here. The bottom line is the health going forward. What are we leaving for our children and grand children? I hope there are a lot of leaders involved. I just happen to be very vocal. I am fully happy to be a worker bee. At the same time, I don’t want my whole life to be about this. I’ll be 65 on my next birthday. I have a good life. I want to keep on doing what I have been doing, helping here or there, taking care of my self, being with my family and friends. I want to do exactly what I have been doing.

Integrator: Yes, it’s a good life. Thanks for what you are doing and have already done for Mimi, with Bravewell and your other initiatives.

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Written by John Weeks

Explore Wellness in 2021