Tracy Gaudet has resigned as the founding executive director of the Whole Health Institute (WHI) in Bentonville.
In response to an inquiry from the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal last week, the nonprofit released a statement Monday (March 14) noting the leadership transition. Gaudet “built a strong foundation for the new organization, sharing her expertise and dedication to whole health principles,” WHI noted in the statement. According to WHI, Gaudet “transitioned out of her role” last week to pursue other interests.
WHI said Walt Cooper, previously head of health innovation and optimization at Walmart Inc. for a little over a year, is Gaudet’s replacement. Cooper has been with WHI since Jan. 3. His first day as CEO was Monday.
“We are grateful for Tracy’s passion and foundational work. I’m honored to carry forth the vision of Whole Health Institute to improve well-being and quality of life, focusing on an approach to health that includes mind, body, and spirit,” Cooper said in a statement. “We’re at an exciting time in the organization’s history, with an extraordinary team assembled and an array of opportunities across the health care systems, workplaces, and within our communities.”
Alice Walton, billionaire philanthropist and Walmart heir, announced the formation of WHI in January 2020 at the Northwest Arkansas Council’s winter meeting in Bentonville. It’s being built on the museum’s 120-acre grounds in Bentonville.
Walton recruited Gaudet, formerly the executive director of the Veterans Health Administration’s National Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation, to be the founding executive director. She left the VHA, the country’s largest integrated healthcare system, in August 2019.
In a March 2021 interview, Gaudet told the Business Journal she did not know Walton until being recruited to Northwest Arkansas for the job at the institute. In a short time frame, though, she had learned a lot about the philanthropist.
“What I’ve learned very quickly is the degree of passion and commitment Alice Walton has for making this approach available and accessible for all people and all communities,” she said. “This is her drive, and I’m on board with that. It’s a huge undertaking, and it’s going to take some time, but it has to impact every person and every community. That’s her vision, and that is what she is committed to doing. And so are we.”
Previously, Cooper co-founded and served as president of San Diego-based Cortica Healthcare, treating children with autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions. At Cortica, according to Monday’s WHI statement, Cooper developed an operational infrastructure that enabled this novel clinical model to grow and expand.
He has also worked with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs following a highly decorated career in the military. Before becoming a healthcare leader, he served in operational and strategic roles during 14 years as a U.S. Army Green Beret.
Cooper holds a doctorate in philosophy from Harvard and a master’s degree from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.