Hospital dedicates cancer rehab program and produces conference


Susan Ford Bales, wearing a pink cardigan in the center, poses with Mary Free Bed staff during the official dedication of the hospital's Betty Bloomer Ford Cancer Rehabilitation Program. Courtesy Mary Free Bed

Susan Ford Bales, daughter of former President Gerald R. Ford and First Lady Betty Ford, was in town recently for the official dedication of the Betty Bloomer Ford Cancer Rehabilitation Program, named in honor of her mother and grandmother — and ahead of the program’s first conference.

The dedication ceremony was held last month at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, which first announced the addition of the program to its offerings in April 2013, during the groundbreaking for the hospital’s recently completed $66.4-million expansion and renovation project.

Tomorrow, the inaugural Betty Bloomer Ford Cancer Rehabilitation Conference will take place in Grand Rapids at the MSU College of Human Medicine and is expected to draw health care professionals from around the country. A pre-conference reception begins tonight at 5 p.m.

The Betty Bloomer Ford Cancer Rehabilitation Program, which provides rehabilitative care for cancer patients, is led by Mary Free Bed Chief of Staff Dr. Christian VandenBerg and administered by Lori Pearl-Kraus.

It is considered a “pioneering step” for what is becoming a nationally emerging sub-specialty.

The program, which includes customized inpatient, outpatient, home and community programs, helps patients achieve maximum cognitive, emotional and physical functioning, while improving quality of life.

Since the 2013 inception of the Betty Bloomer Ford Cancer Rehabilitation Program, more than 430 cancer survivors have been admitted for inpatient rehabilitation.

The outpatient program has also seen a significant increase in services provided to cancer survivors being treated for symptoms related to side effects of their cancer treatments and/or the cancer itself.

A wall display commemorating the initiative features both Betty Ford and her mother, Hortense Neahr Bloomer, who were strong supporters of Mary Free Bed.

Hortense Bloomer served as president of the Mary Free Bed Guild, which governs the hospital, from 1931 to 1932. Betty Ford was a founding member of the Junior Guild in 1935, and Susan Ford Bales is an honorary member of the guild.

The first lady changed how Americans view cancer after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1974, using it as an opportunity to raise awareness and encourage early detection and treatment.

During the 2013 groundbreaking, Bales said rehabilitation therapy following treatment played a significant factor in her mother’s recovery.

“It wasn’t just the skill of her physician that allowed Betty Ford to conquer breast cancer,” Bales said. “It was that skill and the subsequent rehabilitation that made her triumph over breast cancer complete.”

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