A Tour of the Betty Ford Center with Susan Ford Bales

Let's Talk Addiction & Recovery Podcast
Woman talks with friend support group, Cheerful mid adult African American woman smiles while talking with a friend during support group or group therapy session. She is touching her friend's shoulder.

Sharing poignant memories and historical context at every turn, Susan Ford Bales guides you on this singular walking tour of the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California. The daughter of first lady Betty Ford offers a behind-the-scenes look at the heralded addiction treatment center her mother co-founded in 1982. Listen in as she leads host William C. Moyers along the Center’s brick-lined path honoring patients and goes on to point out important milestones of Betty Ford’s lifesaving work.

She lectured to the patients once a month. And that was empowering to her. Because it reminded her of where she had been.

Susan Ford Bales

0:00:24 William Moyers
[to Susan Ford]
Here we are, it's a beautiful day. We're outside on the campus. What does it feel like for you knowing the history that you have here?

0:00:32 Susan Ford
Well I mean there's years here, I mean I've spent a lot of time here. You've got the beautiful mountains and a blue sky and the sun—

0:00:39 William Moyers
Mmm. [nods]

0:00:38 Susan Ford
—How can you not get well here? And then you have the geese who we share the campus with, who are here for the winter.

0:00:42 William Moyers
Yes the geese. [chuckles]

0:00:46 William Moyers
And then we've always shared the campus with the geese in the winter, right?

0:00:48 Susan Ford
Absolutely. They've been here as long as we have. But, you know, the bricks are the story of all the patients—

0:00:56 William Moyers

0:00:56 Susan Ford
—Who's been here. You buy a brick, you put your sobriety date on it. People when they come back for alumni weekend go to see their brick. They know where their brick is. When people have passed away I know people will go and put flowers on other people's bricks.

0:01:11 William Moyers

0:01:11 Susan Ford
I mean it's—it's a very emotional journey.

0:01:14 William Moyers

0:01:15 Susan Ford
And Mother has her own brick right up here.

0:01:17 William Moyers
Let's go see. That brick it's somewhere along here. I think it's appropriate too that these bricks are along a pathway.

0:01:23 Susan Ford
They are along a pathway—

0:01:24 William Moyers
These steps…. [gestures]

0:01:24 Susan Ford
—Because we all know our journey is the same but different.

0:01:29 William Moyers
Yes, exactly.

0:01:30 Susan Ford
Everybody has the same thread through or whatever—

0:01:32 William Moyers

0:01:33 Susan Ford
—They went to the Betty Ford Center, they went to Hazelden, they went to, you know, they've all gone to different treatment centers. But everybody has something in common: they're an addict.

0:01:41 William Moyers
And here's your Mother's—Betty B. Ford. First name and last name—

0:01:45 Susan Ford

0:01:44 William Moyers
—'Cause she was so public. April the 7th, 1978.

0:01:49 Susan Ford
Right. So, we did the intervention on April 1st of 1978.

0:01:53 William Moyers
April Fool's Day.

0:01:54 Susan Ford
April Fool's Day, bad joke. [Moyers chuckles] And she felt by April 7th she was clean and sober after her detox. So that is her sobriety day. That's the one she chose. The one I stick with is April 1st because that was such an emotional day for our family.

0:02:10 William Moyers

0:02:11 Susan Ford
So. But you know you see some that say in memory.

0:02:13 William Moyers
In memory. Yes.

0:02:14 Susan Ford
You know. And they're great stories.

0:02:17 William Moyers
And we know—we know the nature of the illness. Everybody who comes here to the Betty Ford Center wants to recover.

0:02:22 Susan Ford

0:02:23 William Moyers
And many of them do. But it is a chronic illness.

0:02:26 Susan Ford
The chronic, progressive illness.

0:02:27 William Moyers
And unfortunately—

0:02:28 Susan Ford
And not everybody survives.

0:02:30 William Moyers
But everybody tries and—

0:02:32 Susan Ford
That's the important thing.

0:02:32 William Moyers
—I think the powerful thing is we're all the same in this pathway. Some of us make it, some of us struggle, some of us don't make it. But, here we all are.

0:02:40 Susan Ford

0:02:50 William Moyers
So part of your mother's legacy is the fact that she recognized not only that women needed to be in treatment and deserved to be in treatment, but how they're treated mattered as well. These two units back there reflect that.

0:03:00 Susan Ford
It did. And she was very involved in the change with gender-specific treatment.

0:03:04 William Moyers

0:03:05 Susan Ford
That women need to be with women and men need to be with men. And so she changed the campus and made sure that we have equal amount of women's beds as we do men's beds. So, normally we have more male patients than we have female patients. But she always wanted to be sure there was a bed for a woman. 'Cause they need treatment.

0:03:24 William Moyers
And we never wanted to turn a woman away, she always said.

0:03:27 Susan Ford
Absolutely. So, there is financial aid, there is—

0:03:30 William Moyers

0:03:30 Susan Ford
—All those things. And you know when we get ready to do the renovation, this is where they'll be.

0:03:40 William Moyers
Susan behind us in Eisenhower Medical Center.

0:03:42 Susan Ford

0:03:42 William Moyers
Talk about the relationship between Eisenhower and the Betty Ford Center.

0:03:46 Susan Ford
Well when we started this back in 1982, we were a part of the Eisenhower campus. It was the Betty Ford Center at Eisenhower Medical Center. We separated that after many, many years. Nothing bad—

0:03:59 William Moyers

0:03:59 Susan Ford
—It just was a better decision for us. And so now it is the way it is. But it's nice to have an emergency room and doctors—

0:04:07 William Moyers
Absolutely. Yes.

0:04:08 Susan Ford
—And all of that right here if a patient needs it. If we can't take care of it.

0:04:12 William Moyers
And we know our patients are very fragile when they come to us. And to have a top medical center right there.

0:04:18 Susan Ford

0:04:19 William Moyers
Across the little lake and through the shrubs there. And those shrubs weren't there back in the old days, right?

0:04:24 Susan Ford
No, those were added and there's a fence back there too. Because we had what I call Peeping Toms—

0:04:33 William Moyers
—The paparazzies—[motions camera snapping photos]

0:04:34 Susan Ford

0:04:35 William Moyers

0:04:36 Susan Ford
When we had celebrities here the newspeople were always trying to get through and get on campus and get pictures. So, yeah.

0:04:43 William Moyers
Mmm-hmm. But what's remarkable is despite all of that, people are treated with dignity and respect here. In the context of the fact that what is said in here stays in here.

0:04:53 Susan Ford

0:04:54 William Moyers
And we as an organization never confirm nor deny anybody's presence or lack thereof.

0:04:59 Susan Ford
Right. It doesn't matter if they've gone in the newspaper and you know said 'I went to the Betty Ford Center.'

0:05:05 William Moyers
Right. [nods]

0:05:05 Susan Ford
Our staff and our Board and all of those people will never actually acknowledge it. Anonymity.

0:05:14 William Moyers
Always important when instilling dignity and respect into people who are on that journey.

0:05:19 Susan Ford

0:05:36 William Moyers
Here we are at the front door of the Betty Ford Center. The Serenity Prayer. What's the toughest part for you?

0:05:42 Susan Ford

0:05:43 William Moyers

0:05:44 Susan Ford
Sometimes I can't tell the difference.

0:05:46 William Moyers
Right. The difference.

0:05:48 Susan Ford
I'm kind of a control person, so.

0:05:50 William Moyers
You too, huh?

0:05:51 Susan Ford
Uh-huh. [smiles up at him]

0:05:52 William Moyers
Let's go on in. This will be the front door of Admissions. People who take those first steps in recovery here and it's welcoming.

0:06:00 Susan Ford
It is welcoming and we try to make it warm and fuzzy and inviting so that people felt comfortable because taking the first step just to begin treatment is a big step—

0:06:10 William Moyers

0:06:10 Susan Ford
—But it's the beginning of a recovery.

0:06:11 William Moyers
And there's a special section over here that's got a lot of the awards and memories of your mother and her presence. Let's take a look at these. I wanna start if we could Susan with that small white nametag there.

0:06:25 Susan Ford
So that's back to the days when we were with Eisenhower. That's Eisenhower's insignia. And so she would wear her nametag when she was over here on campus. So, she was just like the rest of 'em.

0:06:38 William Moyers
She really was.

0:06:39 Susan Ford
She really was.

0:06:40 William Moyers
Now, of course she was easily recognizable.

0:06:42 Susan Ford
Oh yeah 'cause she had Secret Service agents. [Moyers laughs heartily] You know, she had her tennis shoes on and her slacks and a sweater and she was very comfortably dressed. She didn't get all dressed up to come over here.

0:06:51 William Moyers
And she lectured here too, right?

0:06:53 Susan Ford
She lectured to the patients once a month. And that was empowering to her. Because it reminded her of where she had been.

0:07:02 William Moyers
And I'm sure it was empowering to the patients as well to recognize that addiction doesn't discriminate.

0:07:06 Susan Ford
Right! So and you know, she would go and talk and do questions and answers afterwards. And hug the patients. [Moyers chuckles warmly] And sign their books. And her heart was really in this place.

0:07:18 William Moyers
Absolutely. You talked about this being a licensed—

0:07:21 Susan Ford

0:07:21 William Moyers
Hospital. Talk about that.

0:07:23 Susan Ford
My mother went and lobbied to the State legislature to change the licensing for the State of California so that we are a licensed hospital. And actually the only licensed hospital within the Hazelden Betty Ford group.

0:07:37 William Moyers
Remarkable. And I think that's really affirming to people who recognize that you know what, you can come for this stigmatized illness, but you come to a hospital to get help.

0:07:47 Susan Ford

0:07:47 William Moyers
In the context of the fact that it's licensed as such. You know.

0:07:48 Susan Ford
Exactly. So, just one more thing that she did for patients.

0:07:54 William Moyers
When you see all of these—this memorabilia of your mother's legacy as a woman in recovery, how does it make you feel?

0:08:01 Susan Ford
Oh I couldn't be prouder. I mean, you know, I wish I still looked like some of these pictures in here.

0:08:05 William Moyers
[laughs heartily] But we all—right.

0:08:06 Susan Ford
But we all do. But I mean, she did so much. So, so much. For the whole treatment, alcoholism, drug addiction, she did so much for that.

0:08:17 William Moyers
And what's so notable about these awards is that they were awards that were given in recognition of what she was doing. Again, in this very stigmatized illness.

0:08:26 Susan Ford

0:08:26 William Moyers
This misunderstood illness.

0:08:27 Susan Ford
To change it.

0:08:28 William Moyers
To change it. And to put a positive face. And an accurate face.

0:08:31 Susan Ford
Yes. Absolutely.

0:08:32 William Moyers
Very, very important. Come on, we'll go this way and see what's down here.

0:08:45 William Moyers
And so here we are in Firestone Hall. And here's a portrait of Mr. Firestone.

0:08:52 Susan Ford
Yeah, Leonard was Ambassador under both President Nixon and my father. And they became great friends and Leonard sold the lot next door to him here in the desert to my parents. And so they were neighbors here—

0:09:05 William Moyers

0:09:06 Susan Ford
—And then they were also neighbors in California together. But Leonard was the Co-Founder with Mother.

0:09:11 William Moyers
And a big philanthropist.

0:09:13 Susan Ford
Big, yes. He and Mother would get on his plane—

0:09:16 William Moyers

0:09:17 Susan Ford
—And they would fly all over the State of California raising money and they had this little dance they did. And they were very successful. [Both chuckle.]

0:09:24 William Moyers
Well it'd be hard to say no to Leonard Firestone and the First Lady of the United States! I mean, right?

0:09:28 Susan Ford
[nods, smiles] Well, that's true. But, he needs as much recognition as my mother.

0:09:32 William Moyers
It's a fair point. And that's why we have this hall here named for him.

0:09:35 Susan Ford

0:09:36 William Moyers
What is the role that philanthropy plays, fundraising plays, in admission of an organization like ours?

0:09:42 Susan Ford
Well, the problem is it's the margin is so slim—

0:09:44 William Moyers

0:09:45 Susan Ford
—For what we get in for the patient care. That we have to raise money because it's the other programs: Children's, SIMS, all of those many other programs, that make the difference to a great treatment center.

0:09:57 William Moyers

0:10:02 William Moyers
So here we have our Children's Program. Tell me what happens here.

0:10:06 Susan Ford
What happens here is it's for children from age 7 to 12 who are struggling with the disease of addiction. They need help just like family members need help. This is for a set young group of people.

0:10:17 William Moyers
Why was this important to your mother?

0:10:19 Susan Ford
Well we realized in all the research and over the years that they needed to be treated too. And they were too young to go to a regular family program.

0:10:26 William Moyers
So they walk in here having been affected by their parents' use of substances. They begin their journeys here and when they walk out, they're on the road to recovery!

0:10:34 Susan Ford
It's the beginning of their road to recovery. [nods]

0:10:36 William Moyers
Let's go on in and see what's happening.

0:10:44 Susan Ford
This is a quilt that kids did for Mother.

0:10:46 William Moyers
Ahh. Oh, really? Look at that.

0:10:48 Susan Ford
Yeah. [reads inscription] To Mrs. Ford with gratitude from the children and families of Texas.

0:10:50 William Moyers
Oh, yes, 2000. November of 2000.

0:10:55 Susan Ford

0:10:56 William Moyers
The artwork is really all the—these are the counselors—

0:10:59 Susan Ford
Yeah. This is my favorite.

0:11:01 William Moyers
Yeah, look at this!

0:11:02 Susan Ford
The stories that are told with this artwork is pretty amazing.

0:11:09 William Moyers
Oh, what is this here?

0:11:11 Susan Ford
These are the tiles. These are the kids in one of their therapies make tiles.

0:11:23 William Moyers
So we've certainly covered a lot of ground today and I really appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to walk us not only through the grounds of the Betty Ford Center here but also walk us through the memories that you have of your family's journey. How does that make you feel here at the end of the day?

0:11:40 Susan Ford
I love coming back to campus.

0:11:41 William Moyers

0:11:42 Susan Ford
'Cause it just has that special feel. I love seeing patients beginning their journey. Or as we saw somebody checking out and going home—

0:11:49 William Moyers
Yes. [nods]

0:11:50 Susan Ford
—Beginning another new part of their journey. So, it is something to remember. And it just—it's a stamp on my heart.

0:11:58 William Moyers
And there's gonna be a lot of change happening here with the renovation and the expansion and so on. But we're gonna hold on I think to that—the essence of what was the spirit of your mother's life. I think that's what's so important.

0:12:09 Susan Ford
Well, just as I said to you, I never wanna forget that intervention in their living room.

0:12:14 William Moyers

0:12:15 Susan Ford
And I don't wanna let go and let God on that one. [Moyers chuckles] I wanna hold onto that because it keeps me where I am.

0:12:21 William Moyers
Well thanks for holding on to those memories. You really are the one that carries the flame for the family and carries the spirit of recovery forward. From your mother's life to your life, to all those people who come through the front door. So thank you, Susan.

0:12:33 Susan Ford
Thank you, William.

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