Trustee Profile

Naturally Interested

A Seattle Trustee Uses Political Advocacy to Bring Natural Medicine to Public Health

By Mark Hagland

Trustee September 1996

The word no doesn't play a big role in Merrily Manthey's vocabulary. Neither do impossible, unprecedented, or unimaginable. Perhaps that's why Manthey was undaunted when the notion of introducing natural medicine to public health clinic patients came to her one day in, as she puts it, "a blinding flash of the obvious."

The original idea arose naturally out of a confluence of developments in Manthey's public life. A management consultant and a trustee of Seattle's Harborview Medical Center, Manthey had been recruited earlier last year to join the board of Bastyr University, one of the nation's preeminent institutions for the training of natural medicine professionals. Once on board at Bastyr, she wondered if patients in the Harborview's public health clinics might benefit from the introduction of natural medicine treatments, just as health care consumers on the private delivery side were benefiting from explosion of interest in natural medicine.

It didn't hurt that Manthey, who was born just outside Seattle and has spent most of her life in Puget Sound area, had a mountain-sized network of influential contacts. One of them was Kent Pullen, a King County Council Member who was then serving as council chair. So, after bringing Pullen together with Bastyr President Joseph Pizzorno, Manthey helped lead a crusade that led to the opening last month of the nation's first public health clinic offering natural medicine as part of its repertoire of treatments.

In the scheme of things, it also did not hurt, once Pullen had introduced a motion before the King County Council to create public health clinics that included a natural medicine component, to find out that 11 of 13 council members had had some experience with natural medicine. Of that Gary Locke, the county's chief executive, would reveal that his family, which is of Chinese origin, had been using herbal medicine for generations. Not surprisingly, the council approved the motion unanimously, and sent it on to the state for funding.

This spring, the Washington legislature approved $750,000 in funding for the clinic's first year, allowing the county to begin soliciting bids and setting up the clinic. The first public health clinic offering natural medicine is set to open this month in suburban Seattle at the Kent Community Health Center, one of six public health clinics in King County. The clinic, administered by Bastyr University, is expected to treat between 100 and 130 patients a day.

Throughout the year-long process, Manthey kept all the parties on point, from fellow public hospital trustees to legislators to health care professionals, traditional and naturopathic. (Interestingly, Trustee magazine ended up playing a very timely role in all this. The October 1994 issue's cover story focused on mind-body medicine. Manthey made hundreds of copies and distributed the article throughout the state legislature, in a gesture that helped win converts to the cause.)

The clinic may strike people from other parts of the country as very cutting edge (and perhaps even a bit exotic). But Bastyr's Pizzorno notes that the time has come for a partnership of all elements of the health care system-including natural medicine. The cost-efficiency of certain naturopathic treatments, the intense public interest, and the movement among consumers to take responsibility for their own health and health education make it a good time for this kind of pioneering initiative. Those involved also cite Seattle's historical emphasis on community-wide collaboration for the common good, which helped make the project an easier sell than it might have been in another city.

Still, without Manthey's personal leadership, says Pizzorno, " this innovation would never have come to pass." He, confirms, Manthey was the "mastermind" who kept the project on track through lengthy discussions among various parties, Pullen, who calls Manthey a "brilliant entrepreneur," notes that "natural medicine is sweeping the country, partly because providers are realizing it works, and partly because consumers are demanding it." He adds that calls have come in for more information on how other communities might try a similar venture.

In late May, Manthey addressed World Med "96, the World Congress on Complementary Therapies in Medicine, held in Washington, to describe the initiative for the national leaders of the natural medicine movement. She says the spark pushing her forward on this mission shouldn't be hard for other hospital trustees to understand.

"As trustee, we have a fiduciary responsibility to our patients, and quality care is a key element in that. We need to offer options to our patients that make sense. Here at Harborview, we have an incredibly diverse community, with people who speak many different languages and have different cultural traditions. It turns out that patients have been requesting acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and so on, at the hospital as well. My involvement in this initiative matches perfectly the commitment I made when I became a Harborview trustee to enhancing the health status of the community."

When Manthey first became a trustee four years ago, "I viewed my role too much as being a management consultant, which came naturally to me, since that's what I do professionally. What evolved through my involvement in this project was a truer sense of the role of the trustee, which is leadership, not management. I'm excited now go into my second term. There's so much more still left to do."

And what lessons can others learn from her experience? "Trustees need to unhook themselves from the chains of the this is the way we do it assumptions, and more toward a broader vision of their role. They need to look far into the future, and become extremely active in helping shape that future."