Betty Ford Center Opens L.A. Branch of Treatment Program

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles branch of the Betty Ford Center opens today on West Olympic Boulevard, the first expansion since Mrs. Ford created the center eight years ago to help people overcome drug and alcohol addictions similar to those she suffered during her husband's presidency.

The center in the desert community of Rancho Mirage has drawn celebrities as well as thousands of others, 40% of whom live in Southern California. The decision to open a Los Angeles branch was motivated partly by concern for alumni of the Rancho Mirage facility who could benefit from nearby staff and support programs, Mrs. Ford said. The Los Angeles facility will provide an option for those whose circumstances make difficult a four-week, $8,000 stay in the desert, she said.

Mrs. Ford said she had to overcome reservations about having more than one center. The Los Angeles facility is organized as an extension of the main program in Rancho Mirage and does not represent a move to spin off franchises, she said.

The new facility, called the Betty Ford Center Outpatient Program, is located in a rented suite at 11340 W. Olympic Boulevard. It offers support groups and follow-up care for Rancho Mirage graduates and their families, plus an after-work outpatient program four days a week. Candidates for the evening program include those for whom an extended stay at Rancho Mirage is inconvenient or too costly. The after-work program runs seven weeks and costs $4,000.

An additional after-work program, exclusively for women, will start in the fall. In a recent interview, Mrs. Ford said she is especially keen on this program, having publicized her own battle with drug and alcohol abuse to draw attention to the neglect of women by addiction professionals.

She has continued to press the point as president of the Betty Ford Center board of directors. Women-only programs were started at Rancho Mirage in 1984, after staff members observed that some women were reticent in co-educational treatment groups. The center is conducting studies to see if there is a difference in long-term recovery between women who went through the program in co-ed groups and those in groups of only women.

"Women have been known for years as the hidden alcoholic or the closet alcoholic because of the role they play in the family," Mrs. Ford said. "As the mother or the grandmother or sister or whatever, they are expected to be the nurturing person who takes care of others and doesn't have problems.

"In groups, they tend to sit back and urge the men forward to talk about themselves and they never talk about themselves," she said. "They are not allowed to do that in a women's group."

Mrs. Ford recalled her own treatment at Long Beach Naval Hospital in 1978. Most of the other patients were men, with the common experience of naval careers.

"The few women who were there were young girls in the Navy and I was a 60-year-old woman," said Mrs. Ford.

Having little in common with other patients, Mrs. Ford believes, made it difficult for her to come to grips with her illness. Most of her insight came from talking to other women her age who were recovering from addictions.

Mrs. Ford's problems with alcohol and drugs came as she tried to perform perfectly the traditional roles of wife and mother. Treatment, she said, helped her realize that it was acceptable to fall short of perfection, even to have some weaknesses.

Although options have broadened, Mrs. Ford said the reality for many career women is simply a heavier load of responsibilities and expectations. They seem to have an especially hard time acknowledging addiction, she said, and to suffer a more profound sense of failure.

The Los Angeles facility is expected to operate in the red for the first 18 months while it builds clientele. The nonprofit center is trying to keep fees low, Mrs. Ford said, so it can serve patients without the financial resources of celebrities who have helped the center become well known.

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