CENTER CITY, Minn. (Nov. 4, 2021)—Alta DeRoo, MD, is accustomed to extraordinary roles. As a pioneering female Naval Flight Officer, she led major combat and humanitarian missions around the globe. As an obstetrician-gynecologist, she helped bring thousands of babies into the world. Now, she is saving lives as an addiction medicine physician, and on Veteran's Day, will be promoted to become the first female chief medical officer in the 72-year history of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the nation's largest nonprofit system of substance use disorder treatment, mental health care, recovery resources and related prevention and education services.
"In addition to her remarkable background, Dr. DeRoo models our values and will be a powerful ambassador for Hazelden Betty Ford, bringing her rich humility, empathy, heart and soul to our organization and to the people we serve," said Joseph Lee, MD, president and CEO of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. "She has been a difference-maker in multiple arenas and will bring fresh perspectives and diversity to our leadership team as we broaden our banner and move into a new frontier of health care excellence."
DeRoo, a distinguished fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, succeeds Hazelden Betty Ford chief medical officer Marvin D. Seppala, MD, who recently retired after 25 years in the role. She has been medical director for Hazelden Betty Ford's three California locations since early in the pandemic, working day-to-day in Rancho Mirage, where former United States First Lady Betty Ford founded the Betty Ford Center 39 years ago. Coincidentally, DeRoo grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich., near President Ford's hometown of Grand Rapids and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum.
"I have felt a closeness to the Ford family my entire life," DeRoo said. "Each day, walking past pictures and quotes of Mrs. Ford on our campus, I experience a deep sense of purpose, inspiration and awe. Joining the organization that bears Mrs. Ford's name, and now getting the privilege to serve as chief medical officer, is a profoundly humbling honor and—for me—reflects the working of a higher power."
After earning her bachelor's degree at Connecticut College, DeRoo became a Naval Flight Officer and, during two deployments on aircraft carriers, led 40 missions on a combat control aircraft known as the Hawkeye. As the first woman assigned to her combat squadron, she also was tapped to help lead the integration of mixed-gender crews on her aircraft carrier.
While in the Navy, DeRoo also earned a scholarship to attend the University of Florida College of Medicine and became an obstetrician-gynecologist, or OB/GYN. That eventually led to other assignments, including a humanitarian mission to the South Pacific and a fellowship with the National Institutes of Health.
"I'm grateful my leadership skills were forged in the Navy, where I learned to solve problems and overcome obstacles, and had the opportunity to help pave the way for other women leaders. One of the most important aspects of leadership I learned was that it's OK to ask for help. And when I found myself struggling, I reached out, got the help I needed, and was able to take responsibility for my own recovery," DeRoo said. "Today, like Mrs. Ford and so many others, my life and work—and the passion and empathy I have for our patients—is informed and guided by my lived experience."
Prior to retiring from the Navy in 2016 after 24 years of service, DeRoo earned a second board certification in addiction medicine and developed extensive expertise treating pregnant women who have an opioid use disorder. Before joining Hazelden Betty Ford, she worked at the University of Virginia's Culpeper Hospital and at several clinics treating patients with opioid use disorder. She was also elected president of the Virginia chapter of the American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM) and collaborated with ASAM, the Virginia Department of Health, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to develop a curriculum for training other providers on how to treat patients with opioid use disorder.
Additionally, DeRoo is now on track to earn her MBA in May from the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.
"We are thrilled to promote Dr. DeRoo, who is a tremendously impressive leader committed to eliminating stigma, meeting patients where they are, and loving patients into health by utilizing the best evidence-based medications, psychotherapies and peer supports," said Lester Munson of Chicago, who chairs the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's Board of Trustees. "Together with Dr. Lee, other senior leaders and employees, and the many supporters and partners who amplify our mission, Dr. DeRoo will build on the rich legacies of medical leaders like Dr. Seppala and Dr. James West, merging science with the spirit of recovery to create an even stronger force of healing and hope."
DeRoo has been instrumental to the organization's successful pandemic response in California and will now serve on Hazelden Betty Ford's COVID-19 National Incident Command Team.
"It has been inspiring to see our teams continue to provide exceptional substance use and mental health care to patients while keeping safety at the forefront these past 19 months of the pandemic," DeRoo said. "With humility, empathy and grace, our teams have chosen to flourish despite the challenges, which makes me even more excited for the future and the millions of lives we will touch."
DeRoo and her 11-year-old twins will be moving to Minnesota, where Hazelden Betty Ford is headquartered, after the school year ends. One priority in the meantime will be recruiting and hiring her successor as medical director in California.
The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is a force of healing and hope for individuals, families and communities affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs. As the nation's leading nonprofit provider of comprehensive inpatient and outpatient addiction and mental health care for adults and youth, the Foundation has treatment centers and telehealth services nationwide as well as a network of collaborators throughout health care. Through charitable support and a commitment to innovation, the Foundation is able to continually enhance care, research, programs and services, and help more people. With a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center, the Foundation today is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in its services and throughout the organization, which also encompasses a graduate school of addiction studies, a publishing division, an addiction research center, recovery advocacy and thought leadership, professional and medical education programs, school-based prevention resources and a specialized program for children who grow up in families with addiction. Learn more at HazeldenBettyFord.org and on Twitter.