Celebrating a Decade Together as a United Force of Healing and Hope

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation marks 10 years since historic merger that brought together Hazelden and the Betty Ford Center

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
7 min readFeb 6, 2024

By Jeremiah Gardner

NOTE: This was published for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s monthly Recovery Advocacy Update. If you’d like to receive our advocacy emails, subscribe today.

Hazelden Betty Ford: Celebrating, Sparking New Hope in 2024

When the Hazelden Foundation and the Betty Ford Center merged 10 years ago — on Feb. 10, 2014 — the two most iconic names in addiction treatment came together to create an unparalleled force of healing and hope.

In the decade since, the united Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation has impacted millions of lives. It has continued to innovate and strengthened its standing as the nation’s leading and most trusted nonprofit provider of comprehensive behavioral healthcare and related services — for entire families and communities as well as industry professionals.

A look ahead

Amid seismic shifts in healthcare over the past 10 years, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, Hazelden Betty Ford has been able to continue its long history of innovation and exponentially grow the number of patients, families, students and customers it serves.

Today, the future is even brighter.

Hazelden Betty Ford is significantly expanding mental health and family services to bolster its comprehensive capabilities and meet increasingly complex needs; publishing successful and robust new outcomes; investing in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts to broaden its banner and reach; embarking on a bold, new $500 million fundraising campaign; and building powerful new digital platforms and immersive experiences to provide unparalleled value to individuals, families and communities.

Meant to be together

At the time of the Hazelden and Betty Ford Center merger, then-President and CEO Mark Mishek said, “We intend to honor both legacies and capitalize on our shared strengths to assume the responsibility of being the world leader dedicated to helping people reclaim their lives from addiction.”

That has proven true. It has been such a case study of a successful merger that, to many, it seems Hazelden and Betty Ford were meant to be together.

Indeed, the legacies of the two organizations had been inextricably linked for decades.

In addition to celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the merger, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2024, dating back to the birth of Hazelden in 1949. For three-quarters of a century, Hazelden, the Betty Ford Center and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation have been at the center of addiction recovery — breaking through stigma, transforming care and saving lives. Sign up for updates on anniversary events and opportunities at HazeldenBettyFord.org/75.

A Shared Spirit and Destiny

The connection between Hazelden and Betty Ford was seeded in 1970, 12 years before the Betty Ford Center was founded and 44 years before the merger. That’s when Dr. Joe Cruse visited Hazelden in Center City, Minn., to borrow ideas for a family live-in center he envisioned for a cancer treatment hospital.

Instead of a tour, he was admitted for care, having shown up under the influence of alcohol.

Embracing his new life in recovery, Dr. Cruse became active in the Twelve Step community back home in California’s Coachella Valley and returned to Hazelden several times to attend training seminars. In 1976, he cofounded the Alcohol Awareness Hour, which featured among others several Hazelden-connected speakers, at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Two years later, he helped organize the intervention that resulted in former First Lady Betty Ford admitting herself to Long Beach Naval Hospital for treatment on April 10, 1978.

At that moment in history — by immediately speaking openly about her treatment for alcohol and prescription medication misuse — Mrs. Ford put a courageous new face on recovery that sparked a long overdue national dialogue. The shame surrounding addiction began to lift and unlock the door to recovery for many more people.

In the ensuing couple of years, Dr. Cruse also helped with the intervention for former U.S. Ambassador Leonard Firestone and then worked closely with him and Mrs. Ford to plan and ultimately open the Betty Ford Center in 1982.

One of many critical contributions made by Dr. Cruse, who became the Center’s founding medical director, was to persuade Mrs. Ford to visit Hazelden in 1980, 10 years after he had begun his own recovery journey there. The idea was to learn from the nation’s foremost addiction treatment provider and its revered president, Dan Anderson, PhD.

In 1980, former First Lady Betty Ford, center, met with Damian McElrath, Hazelden’s director of treatment services, left, and Hazelden President Dan Anderson, architect of the “Minnesota Model” of addiction treatment.

Dr. Cruse thought the new inpatient center should draw heavily from Hazelden’s innovative design featuring a central administration building surrounded by patient units to reinforce the sense of a caring, therapeutic community. He also felt strongly that Hazelden and Dr. Anderson should assist with program planning and selection and training of staff. And that’s what happened.

Mrs. Ford hired Dr. Anderson’s mentee John Schwarzlose to be the Betty Ford Center’s clinical leader, and Schwarzlose went on to become the center’s longtime CEO. In the months prior to the Betty Ford Center’s opening, Dr. Cruse and Schwarzlose spent significant time at Hazelden, consulting various departments and fashioning policies and procedures for the new center. Hazelden staff also traveled to Rancho Mirage to assist in training the Betty Ford Center’s clinical staff and participate in a “practice run” of operations ahead of the opening.

Through a fortuitous series of events and an inspired vision for what could be, Dr. Joe Cruse initiated and nurtured the historic connection between Hazelden and the Betty Ford Center.

Dr. Anderson also spoke in Rancho Mirage on multiple occasions in the run-up to the Betty Ford Center’s launch and began to spend his winters there. And, in 1981, Mrs. Ford spoke at Hazelden’s “Alive & Free” Alumni Weekend in Minnesota.

Mrs. Ford and Dr. Joe Cruse at the Oct. 9, 1981, groundbreaking for the Betty Ford Center.

Other connections binding the organizations:

  • In 1981, Eisenhower Medical Center sponsored the first annual Alcohol Seminar, which would later become known as the Betty Ford Center Conference on Alcoholism and Chemical Dependency. Who spoke at that first event? None other than Hazelden President Dan Anderson.
  • An outpatient treatment program started by Dr. Cruse at Eisenhower Medical Center in 1978 and that helped set the stage, culturally, for the Betty Ford Center, was developed with consultative help from Vern Johnson, founder of the Johnson Institute in Minnesota, who had close ties to Hazelden.
  • 1984 to 1987 — Leaders from Hazelden and the Betty Ford Center traveled together to the Soviet Union and Sweden, and hosted delegations from those countries as well, to help evaluate and consult other programs.
  • 1984 — Hazelden and the Betty Ford Center collaborated on joint public relations efforts.
  • 1985 — Hazelden provided the Betty Ford Center with evaluation and benchmarking services.
  • 1984–1985: The CORK buildings on the Betty Ford Center’s Rancho Mirage campus and Hazelden’s Center City campus were built, thanks to independent donations from Joan Krok, the widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. CORK is Kroc spelled backward.
  • 1986 — Betty Ford spoke at the dedication of the new Hanley-Hazelden treatment center in Florida.
  • 1990 — Several Hazelden staff members traveled to the Betty Ford Center to build relationships and prepare — in mutually supportive fashion — for expected challenges in the treatment field.
  • 1991 — Hazelden and Betty Ford Center leaders testified jointly to a Congressional committee about managed care and other cost-containment practices that were leading to unfair and inappropriate denials of coverage for patients.
  • 1995 — Hazelden and the Betty Ford Center held a joint fundraiser in New York City: a Broadway performance of Victor-Victoria starring Julie Andrews and Tony Roberts that raised more than $1 million to fund treatment “scholarships” for people in need. The proceeds were split evenly between the two organizations.
  • 2005 — Following Hurricane Katrina, Hazelden and the Betty Ford Center both stepped up to assist people in the New Orleans area, providing treatment scholarships (hurricane victims were prioritized for patient aid for several months). Hazelden Publishing also donated almost $500,000 worth of Big Books, videos and other items lost to the flooding.
  • 1998 to 2008 — Hazelden, the Betty Ford Center, the Valley Hope Association, and the Caron Foundation joined forces as The Partnership for Recovery. The partnership would help lead advocacy for federal “parity” legislation that ultimately was successful, making discriminatory insurance practices toward people with substance use disorders illegal. The partnership also joined a national advocacy effort called The Alliance, which paved the way for the eventual founding of Faces & Voices of Recovery, a nonprofit dedicated to building a united, influential constituency around alcohol and drug dependence, educating the public about alcoholism, and changing society’s negative attitudes about addiction.
  • Late 1990s to early 2000s — Hazelden, the Betty Ford Center and the Caron Foundation collaborated on a series of Women Healing Conferences held across the country.

Hazelden was incredibly supportive and integral to the Betty Ford Center’s founding and first 20 years, knowing that Mrs. Ford’s influence and stature would dramatically expand the hope and awareness that help exists, benefitting the entire field and — most importantly — people and families everywhere.

It was a karmic investment that paid off with the historic and successful 2014 merger of Hazelden and the Betty Ford Center.

As the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation continues to look back and look ahead in this 75th anniversary year, we have so much to celebrate! Sign up for updates and join us at HazeldenBettyFord.org/75.



Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

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