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First woman administrator takes the helm of Betty Ford Center

The Betty Ford Center announced Thursday morning that Tessa Voss will head the organization as the fourth administrator and first woman to lead the Rancho Mirage institution co-founded by former First Lady Betty Ford.

Tessa Voss Photo Courtesy of Betty Ford Center

Voss, who takes the helm on Monday, December 20, also will serve as vice president of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's California Region, overseeing clinics in San Diego and Los Angeles as well. Voss told News Channel 3 she is "proud to carry on" a legacy started by first lady and addiction advocate Betty Ford in 1982.

For Tessa Voss, her path to helping those with addiction and substance use disorders started with the loss of friends to opioids.

Tessa Voss speaking with News Channel 3

Her experience and loss was one of the reasons she applied to the Hazelden Betty Ford graduate school in 2010. Voss worked as a counselor while studying to obtain her master's degree, a position she held onto until 2016. She then worked as manager for the addiction programs in Oregon, before getting promoted to clinical director. Voss' career journey, which started with what was known as the Hazelden Foundation up until a 2014 merger with the Betty Ford Center, would eventually bring her to the Coachella Valley in 2019. 

Voss has dedicated her 11-year career to the Foundation, which is the nation’s largest nonprofit system of substance use disorder treatment, mental health care, recovery resources and related prevention and education services.

“Tessa has achieved a lot in our organization and embodies the spirit of humility, empathy and grace that is so important to the work we do with patients, families and children,” said Hazelden Betty Ford President and CEO Joseph Lee, MD. “As the first woman to direct operations at the Betty Ford Center, Tessa broadens the banner of our leadership team nationally and extends the legacy and pioneering spirit of our co-founder and namesake Mrs. Ford, who—though not its operational leader—was the Betty Ford Center’s face and voice for almost 30 years. With Tessa as our ambassador and leader in California, I am very excited about the future and the many lives and families our teams there will be able to impact in the years ahead.”

Voss will step into her new position as many people struggle with isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic, along with other life stressors, such as losing a job or even a loved one.  

Riverside County has experienced an increase in overdose deaths throughout the health crisis – more than half linked to fentanyl, according to Riverside University Health System.

Data of overdose deaths courtesy of County of Riverside Department of Public Health
Data of overdose deaths courtesy of County of Riverside Department of Public Health

Voss said data collected by the Betty Ford Center shows “more people are accessing help. More people are back to traveling to get the care they need, which is great to see.” The trend could be attributed to eased restrictions that have fluctuated over the past few months and an increase in vaccinations.

Voss told News Channel 3 that the nonprofit "has a lot that they're focused on going into the new year." She noted, "it is our 40th anniversary for the Betty Ford Center, so that's very special. We will be focusing on plans for celebrations in the year to come" including "a large alumni anniversary event."

She and her team are also focused on the creation of a strategic plan for 2022 in order to "connect with communities, increase access, establish a California system of care and reach more people in California."

Voss also noted that the Betty Ford Center has started a campus transformation. She explained, "our buildings here are original buildings and so we are in the process of adding a building, which would add 44 patient beds." There are also planned renovations on the Rancho Mirage campus.

Voss said the $30 million project is supported in large part "by generous donors and people who love the Betty Ford Center and really want to set a foundation for the next 40 years."

Stay with News Channel 3 for any updates.

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Jennifer Franco

Jennifer Franco is the weekend anchor/weekday reporter for KESQ News Channel 3

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