The search to find Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s next chief medical officer has wrapped up, as the substance use disorder (SUD) treatment provider on Thursday announced Dr. Alta DeRoo as its new CMO.
DeRoo is the first female CMO in the history of Center City, Minnesota-based Hazelden, which was founded in 1949.
DeRoo has been with Hazelden since August 2020. Prior to her CMO appointment, she was the medical director for the provider’s three California centers, which are located in Los Angeles, San Diego and Rancho Mirage.
“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,” Hazelden President and CEO Joseph Lee said in a press release. “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 served in the Navy for 24 years, where as a flight officer she led major combat and humanitarian missions worldwide. While in the Navy, DeRoo attended medical school at the University of Florida, eventually becoming an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN) in addition to earning a fellowship with the National Institutes of Health.
Also a distinguished fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), DeRoo has worked at the University of Virginia’s Culpeper Hospital and has specialized in treating pregnant women with opioid use disorder (OUD). DeRoo was previously elected as president of the Virginia chapter of ASAM, and in addition to her new Hazelden role, is currently pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.
DeRoo originally hails from Kalamazoo, Michigan, which is located near Grand Rapids. Former First Lady Betty Ford — who founded Hazelden’s Betty Ford Center — and her husband, former U.S. President Gerald Ford, grew up in Grand Rapids.
DeRoo succeeds Marvin Seppala as Hazelden’s CMO. Seppala announced in July that he was retiring at year’s end.
“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,” Lester Munson, the chair of Hazelden’s board of trustees, said in a press release.
From the military to the front lines of the SUD epidemic
By anyone’s measure, DeRoo has racked up an array of impressive accomplishments — from her military service to her professional experiences.
“My whole life, it seems like it’s been spent in public service,” DeRoo told Behavioral Health Business on Thursday.
In her new post as Hazelden’s CMO, DeRoo said that she will play an active role in the provider’s expansion of services. One of those services is telehealth and its virtual RecoveryGo platform, which has been a critical part of its offerings since the onset of the pandemic.
The outpatient treatment platform was launched in March 2020 by Hazelden, which operates 17 facilities nationwide. The pandemic has accelerated the rollout of RecoveryGo, which is now in about 20 states.
DeRoo — who will directly report to Hazelden CEO Joseph Lee — will be among those on the provider’s executive team assisting with efforts to implement RecoveryGo in all 50 states within the next couple of years.
“What we would like to do is use telehealth to continue that care, because recovery is a lifelong journey,” said DeRoo. “It doesn’t just stop with residential treatment. We want to use telehealth to be able to follow the patients to whatever stage they go to, and be a part of their recovery long term. Telehealth has shown us during COVID that we can do that effectively.”
Lee, who is a board-certified addiction medicine physician, is also tapping DeRoo’s expertise to help the provider with plans to expand into new markets, particularly ones where the SUD epidemic has been acutely felt, but where access to services may be an issue.
Like DeRoo, Lee is a new Hazelden C-suite appointment, having been tapped as CEO earlier this year following the retirement of Mark Mishek.
“That’s one of the nice things about having our new CEO also being an addiction medicine physician,” DeRoo said. “He’s very health care-minded. He and I will pinpoint markets that we can impact a lot with telehealth, and markets that may be underserved right now.”
Both near- and long-term, DeRoo wants to welcome more patients back into in-person treatment, saying that while telehealth is key to Hazelden’s future offerings, some individuals may prefer the face-to-face options.
DeRoo said that Hazelden is following all necessary precautions for patients to come into facilities for treatment.
“We have very strict COVID policies; we have an opportunity for patients to get vaccinated, and we have almost 100% of our staff vaccinated,” she said. “It’s a very safe place to come for treatment.”
Drawing on her prior professional background, DeRoo would like to be able to reach more veterans for treatment. She also hopes Hazelden can treat more women who are suffering from SUD.
“Often our treatment centers are a majority of men,” she said. “But when women suffer from addiction, it’s more profoundly apparent through the family and the children and the support structure.”
Increasing treatment access, DeRoo feels, is necessary both for Hazelden’s growth goals and the country as far as turning a corner in the fight against SUD.
“I would love it if we could expand our influence in our treatment around the United States beyond our 17 sites, so that everybody can get access to treatment,” she said.