Betty Ford: Drug Rehab Pioneer
The recent death of 93-year-old Betty Ford, one of America’s drug rehab pioneers, reminds us how relatively young the practice of formal drug addiction treatment is. Mrs. Ford, former first lady of the United States, was one of the first well-known Americans to make public details about her addiction to alcohol and pain medications. Although it often seems today that addiction in celebrity circles is a right of passage, Mrs. Ford lived in a much different time.
Betty married her second husband, Gerald Ford, in 1948. At the time, Ford was running for Congress; after thirteen terms he would go on to become the President of the United States following Nixon’s resignation. During their marriage the Fords had four children and lived primarily in the Washington DC area before retiring to Rancho Mirage, California.
Like many addicts, Betty Ford started using prescription medications for a bona fide medical reason – she took them to ease the pain associated with a pinched nerve. In 1978, her family staged an intervention, which encouraged her to acknowledge her alcoholism and addiction to painkillers.
After recovering from her addictions at Long Beach Naval Hospital, Mrs. Ford joined with Ambassador Leonard Firestone to establish the Betty Ford Clinic in Rancho Mirage, California for the treatment of substance abuse. The facility opened in 1982 and was intended to focus on addiction treatment in women; today, males and females live in separate residences and experience gender-specific courses of treatment.
After Betty Ford’s retirement in 2005, her daughter, Susan, became chairperson of the facility’s board of directors. Betty Ford also published several books about her recovery. During the 1990’s, she was awarded both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. She and her husband both died at age 93.
Mrs. Ford’s contribution to the treatment of chemical dependence, known now as the Betty Ford Center, is world-renowned and has treated just under one hundred thousand patients. It is a non-profit hospital, offering those suffering with alcoholism and drug addiction treatment in inpatient, outpatient, and day patient programs. It is adjacent to the Eisenhower Medical Center and has one hundred inpatient beds, with additional housing for day patients.
Although many patients pay a significant portion of the costs associated with their treatment, the Betty Ford Center Foundation raises funds to support the facility and offer patient scholarships toward the $25,000 fee. In 2006, the Betty Ford Institute was created to support addiction research, education, prevention, and legislative policy development.
Although Mrs. Ford played a vital role in the development of the Center, there are reports that the relationship between it and the Ford family have been strained. When Betty Ford turned over the reins to her daughter in 2005, much was made of the fact that Susan did not leave in the area and, thus, could not visit the Center as frequently as did her mother. There have also been rumors that the current financial recession has hit the Center hard, with assets falling as much as ten million dollars. In May 2010, Susan was removed from the chairmanship, despite glowing recommendations from Betty. Faced with the loss of its beloved founder and revenues from donations and patient tuition, the Betty Ford Center may have a tough road ahead.