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News Channel 3 In-Depth: The Future of the Betty Ford Center

It's one of the world's most famous addiction treatment centers, and it's located right here in the Coachella Valley. The world-renown Betty Ford Center sits on a private, 20-acre campus adjacent to Eisenhower Health in Rancho Mirage.

For the past four decades, this tranquil desert oasis has helped hundreds of thousands of people find healing and hope, which is just as Betty Ford envisioned at the center's dedication ceremony back on October 3, 1982.

"This was a desert; a pile of sand out here. And we've made it come alive. But it's even going to be more alive with those people who come here for help, because there is a way for them. And there is a new life for them," Betty Ford said at the dedication ceremony.

The candid former First Lady spoke publicly about her struggles with alcohol and prescription pills, lifting the shame and stigma surrounding addiction. Just two years after she and her husband Gerald left the White House, she checked into rehab following a family intervention.

"They were telling me they loved me too much to let me go," Ford said.

That life-changing experience inspired Ford to build the world's only treatment center with an equal number of beds for women as for men.

One of the first patients was Joan Clark. She arrived at center in 1984. Today, Clark works at the center in recovery management.

"What makes this place so special?" Daut asked Clark.

"It's life-changing," Clark replied. "It's such a melting pot of people, all with the one thing in common that we're all here to get better."

Clark continued: "Our location has been called one of those most powerful parts of the treatment, because you can walk around a little lake and look up at the mountains and it's special. It's just really hard to define."

Clark met Ford several times, whom she says was very active at the center, often visiting with patients prior to her death in 2011.

"Mrs. Ford was very receptive to getting a call at home, coming over, sitting and talking with someone. She lived about a mile away, and sharing her own recovery," Clark said.

Web Bonus: Susan Ford Bales, Betty Ford's daughter, talks about the 40th anniversary of center

Over the decades, Betty Ford became a household name associated with numerous celebrities who were open about receiving treatment there. Elizabeth Taylor said she kicked a 25-year drug habit at the center where she also met one of her husbands.

Johnny Cash said the center helped him to get sober, and Kelsey Grammer credited his stay with saving his life.

Though celebrities have always made up less than one percent of Betty Ford's patients, the center says it still fights the misconception it caters to the rich and famous.

Something else Betty Ford offers is services for children whose loved ones are struggling with addiction.
The manager of the children's program says no child has ever been turned away for inability to pay.

"Our program really helps them understand that it's not their fault. They're not alone. And that their number one job is to be a kid," said Analia Hoyt, manager of the Betty Ford Center Children's Program.

A new generation of Americans is now learning about the center's trailblazing founder in the Showtime series "The First Lady." Michelle Pfeiffer plays Betty Ford. Dakota Fanning plays Ford's daughter Susan.

Daut spoke with Susan, who is now on the board of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

Susan said her mother initially hesitated to put her name on the center.

"She said, 'I need to know that my family is ok. Because long after I'm gone it's my family that's going to have to live with it.' I mean that sounds horrible, but I couldn't be more proud of her," Susan said. "I'm really proud to have our family name on it."

And she's proud the center is about to undergo a major facelift, which is the most significant expansion since it opened. Renderings show what's ahead, including updates to the grounds and the construction of several new buildings.

"We'll be taking down the original Betty Ford Center residential units, and adding new units to expand patient needs and our capacity here," Executive Director Tessa Voss said.

Voss said when the $30 million project is finished in 2025, the center will increase from 184 to 240 beds, including many more at the day-treatment level of care.

Daut asked Voss, "What does the future look like for the Betty Ford Center?"

"The future is bright for the Betty Ford Center. We are really excited about paving the future for the next 40 years," she replied.

"Is the demand for places like the Betty Ford Center greater than ever before?" Daut asked.

Voss replied, "It is. We see a record number of people reaching out to us for help and admitting into our services, and so we know that's only going to increase due to the effects of the pandemic, and for people becoming more and more aware of addiction as a disease, and that there's treatment that helps for it."

Daut asked Susan, "What do you think your mother would say about where Betty Ford is now, and where it's headed?"

"Well I think she would be excited," Susan said. "I think she would be proud of the fact we are continuing to be the leaders in the field."

Betty Ford considered the center her lifetime achievement. Forty years after her dream became a reality here in our desert-- and a global symbol of recovery-- she will always be remembered as a woman strong enough to admit her weakness.

 "I was not only glad that my disease was treatable, but I was tremendously grateful that God was going to give me another chance," Betty Ford said.

It's impossible to quantify or overstate Betty Ford's legacy. Perhaps the finest tribute came from her husband, the 38th president of the United States, who said, "When the final tally is taken, her contribution will be bigger than mine."

On Monday, the center will host a ribbon-cutting for its new entrance, the first big milestone in its transformation.

For more information on the Betty Ford Center transformation project visit: https://www.hazeldenbettyford.org/locations/betty-ford-center-rancho-mirage/transformation

Peter Daut

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