(EDITOR’S NOTE: Russ Patrick, who heads Patrick Communications and serves as spokesman for the Betty Ford Center, conducted this interview with Betty Ford Center president and CEO John Schwarzlose last month on the occasion of the California facility’s 30th anniversary.)
Q: In what ways do you believe the Betty Ford Center modernized or revolutionized addiction treatment?
Schwarzlose: The Betty Ford Center took a successful model of chemical dependency treatment called the Minnesota Model (begun in the late 1960s) and enhanced it. Most notably, we added a strong medical component. Most facilities back then relied on outside, freelance physicians—that’s still the case today. We thought it important that the medical staff be integrated into the in-house treatment team. We have five full-time addiction physicians (one of whom is a specialist in the simultaneous treatment of addiction and chronic pain issues), as well as a full-time addiction psychiatrist.
Another enhancement we made to the Minnesota Model is recognizing that addiction is a family disease, a disease that severely impacts children. Our intensive Family Program and our unique Children’s Program have changed the treatment landscape. Most experts in the field have come to recognize that you can’t—or at least shouldn’t—treat the alcoholic or addict in isolation. You have to educate and treat family members as well. Sadly, most other facilities just don’t have the resources to develop programs for family members, and virtually none have programs for children. We believed—and believe—that if we’re ever going to break the deadly cycle of addiction, we have to work with children who live in a family impacted by this often deadly disease.
Another key way we revolutionized addiction treatment is directly attributable to Betty Ford. She insisted right at the beginning that 50% of our beds be reserved for female patients. Everybody else in the treatment field thought that was crazy, that there was no way we could fill those beds. Well, it was true that women were more or less the forgotten gender when it came to addiction treatment back in the early ’80s, but Mrs. Ford always had her eye on the future. And she was proved right. Here we are in 2012—half our beds are still reserved for women, and we keep them filled.
What do you think has been the secret to the Betty Ford Center’s success?
One of the keys to our success over the past 30 years is that we’ve remained faithful to our mission and our philosophy of care. We believe that addiction is a chronic, complex biological and psychological illness that requires a comprehensive and intensive approach. For 30 years the 12-Step philosophy of treatment and recovery has been the foundation for everything we do.
Another key is our commitment to our professional staff, most of whom have been here for all or most of their careers. We have very little staff turnover, which is highly unusual in this field.
You know, Mrs. Ford used to often say: The 20 acres are fantastic, all these state-of-the-art buildings are great, the mountains and desert air are a boon to treatment and recovery, but at the end of the day what really makes this place special is the staff! Two hundred-plus individuals, most of whom are in recovery themselves, devoted 100% to providing help and hope to our patients.