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Family-Owned, Patient-Focused: The Renfrew Center Difference

Podcast Transcript

Episode 1: All Bodies. All Foods. Welcome to the Show! A Conversation with Vanessa Menaged

[Bouncy theme music plays.]

SAM: Hey, I’m Sam!

ASHLEY: Hi, I’m Ashley and you’re listening to All Bodies. All Foods. presented by The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders. We want to create a space for all bodies to come together authentically and purposefully to discuss various areas that impact us on a cultural and relational level.

SAM: We believe that all bodies and all foods are welcome, we would love for you to join us on this journey. Let’s learn together.

ASHLEY: All right. Hello everyone. And thank you so much for joining us for our first podcast with All bodies. All Foods. My name is Ashley Vacari and I’m here with my partner, Sam DeCaro.

ASHLEY: Hey, Sam!

SAM: Hi Ashley!

ASHLEY: How are you?

SAM: I’m thrilled! I’m so happy to be doing our first episode.

ASHLEY: I know this is so exciting!

SAM: I know we’ve waited so long to do this. And I’m just so excited about our guest today.

ASHLEY: I know, so we have Vanessa Menaged on today and we’re going to introduce her in a little bit, but I really wanted to just spend some time talking with you first Sam and share with everybody about why we wanted to do this podcast and what it means to us. We’re titling it All Bodies. All Foods. We really want to be able to reach anyone and everyone that’s interested in listening, learning more, and talking about disordered eating, talking about all bodies fit, talking about everything in that kind of range of stuff.

SAM: Exactly. I’m wondering, I’m feeling compelled to introduce myself to let everyone know what I do and what I was hoping to get out of, you know what I was hoping for this podcast.

SAM: So, I’m Sam, I’m a licensed psychologist and I’m the Director of Clinical Outreach and Education at Renfrew. I started as a therapist 10 years ago at our residential site. And so, you know, one of the reasons why I wanted to start this podcast was because, honestly, I wanted to figure out a way to reach more people to talk about eating disorders. There are so many misconceptions out there, there’s so many myths and I felt like this could be a way to reach a lot of people to spread awareness, spread education, talk about research, and then bring in the experts and talk about all the things that are relevant right now, social media and the diet industry and all of that. So, to me, I mean this is just a really meaningful project.

SAM: So, Ashley, maybe you can talk about, you know, your role at Renfrew.

ASHLEY: I couldn’t agree more with you, Sam.

ASHLEY: So again, my name is Ashley, I’m a licensed professional counselor and I started at Renfrew five years ago also as a therapist at our Nashville Tennessee location and I absolutely love the work that we do, and I am currently a professional relations manager with us. So, Sam where you worked a lot with our clients, I work a lot with our professionals in the community and do a lot of outreach, do a lot of teaching. I know you do that too Sam, so I really had a heart to reach professionals, people that wanted to learn more about eating disorders, disordered eating, body image work, really just to help expand their knowledge as they work to treat their clients, you know.

ASHLEY: So, I think when we realized that we both kind of had this dream and this vision, it was exciting to me that we could really make this work.

SAM: Totally! Fun fact, well, you know this Ashley, but, I run Renfrew’s TikTok account, and there’s only so much awareness you can do in like a 30-second video, thinking we need more time to talk about disorders and there’s such an interest, you know, even with the small videos that I’ll put out, I can see that people really want to know more, especially about the lesser known eating disorders and how eating disorders can affect people across so many different domains of their lives and how to help, how to support people, like everyone sort of knows someone who struggles whether with eating or body image and you know, really learning about the tools, it’s like how can I actually support the people in my life in a way that’s helpful and not, you know, triggering or you know, or not in a way that that will make them feel worse.

SAM: So, that was, that was another piece of this is just having the venue to talk for a longer stretch of time about this important stuff.

ASHLEY: So, to our listeners, that’s our heart, like that’s why we’re wanting to do this, we’re wanting to connect with our community, we’re wanting to be involved with you all and so definitely hit us up if you have, you know, topics you want to hear about or if you’re interested in, you know, talking on the show, let us know. We would love to connect with you all. So, again, thank you for having us, thank you for listening to our show and I would love to introduce our guest today.

ASHLEY: We have with us, Vanessa Menaged, she is the Chief Marketing and Admissions Officer at The Renfrew Center. She is also daughter to Sam Menaged, the Founder and President of The Renfrew Center.

ASHLEY: So, Vanessa, thank you so much for joining us!

VANESSA: Thank you for having me, I’m so happy to be here!

ASHLEY: We’re so happy that you’re here. So, I’m curious if you could just start off and tell us a little bit about yourself and kind of how you came into your role at The Renfrew Center.

VANESSA: As you mentioned, my father Sam Menaged is the founder of Renfrew and so I grew up in this family business, Renfrew has been a part of my life from the beginning and I have distinct memories growing up of people coming up to my father when they heard that he founded Renfrew and sharing their stories, sharing the stories of their loved ones. When people would hear what my father did, people would start telling me stories of people they knew or themselves and it was very impactful. I have very early childhood memories of that and I didn’t even understand when it, when he first started I just knew it was this place where I saw a lot of women there and people always were very thankful for it and then as I grew up and got older I started to actually understand what was happening and what he was doing um and it’s always been incredibly proud of it.

VANESSA: So, growing up, I also spent a lot of time here, I spent, if I had summers, if I had days off from school, I was always on the campus, I would be spending time shredding, filing, answer phones, whatever they needed, running around on the campus and so it’s really been a part of my life and so I have, you know, my earliest memories involve Renfrew.

SAM: You grew up here, you really grew up! I mean we opened Renfrew opened in 1985. Here we are in 2022. I mean, how old were you then? I mean if you don’t mind me asking how old you were. Your dad’s opening this site treating eating disorders. Back then, it was like, no one really knew what an eating disorder was. And the way treatment was back in 1985 you go to a hospital and you basically, they feed you and monitor you 24/7 and then you leave the hospital and go home. I mean really like no psychological treatment back then. It was really a medical approach strictly.

SAM: So yeah, so I’m just wondering like, how old were you and what, what did you know about eating disorders? Because I’m sure so many of our listeners can relate to maybe just like not really understanding what your dad was trying to do.

VANESSA: Yeah! So, when he started, I was four. So, I, before it opened, we would come here and go sledding and it was just this property that we had because it was being built for about two years. So, there’s pictures of me, you know, when I was three walking around in front of the scaffolding and things like that. So, when it started, I really had no idea what was going on and I just knew he worked on this great magical campus, and I would come in and there were horses here and I’d go feed the horses and I would get to take my art books and go draw on this campus. I mean, I really had had no idea in the early days what was going on and it wasn’t until I started getting older that I started to understand, I would ask more questions, I would wonder what was going on. Um you know, and then that’s when I started to learn more about it. But um, yeah, in the early days, I mean in that time when we opened in 1985, this was the first residential eating disorder facility in the country at that point, what you said is true, Sam. It was you either were in the hospital or you’re an outpatient with a therapist. There was nothing else. And when you went to the hospital, it was mostly just a feeding tube or something like that. And then he got sent home. So, it was what he started was, you know, completely different, completely outside the box. Not something that had been done before. But he saw a need and he knew that this was something that really needed to happen. And that was why he went ahead and did it right.

ASHLEY: That is so wonderful!

SAM: Amazing. I wish, I wish we had some old pictures of you Vanessa sledding. We can hang them around the building. I love that image, especially because this campus, I don’t know if any of our listeners out there have seen it, but you know, I worked at the campus, the Spring Lane – Philadelphia campus for many years. And I mean it’s just, it’s majestic. I mean really, that’s one of the only ways I can describe it and every season is like a different utopia. There’s like the winter wonderland, you know, beautiful scenery with the snow and the dear and then you know in the spring all the flowers bloom and it’s just, I mean there’s something just so therapeutic about just being in this space on the campus and as a four-year-old, I just picture you just having so much fun just being on campus.

VANESSA: Absolutely! Yeah, there are pictures all over our house of those early days of our family in front of the buildings and yeah, it is definitely a very different time, but it is, it’s pretty incredible to now work in the exact same place you know that I was here when I was little and it’s kind of is a full circle moment to be now working here and in these places as an employee.

SAM: Yeah, absolutely!

ASHLEY: Vanessa, I’m curious what, you know, having been really on this campus your whole life, what you know growing up and kind of having your own lived experiences. What does this work mean to you now? Um maybe how is that? How has that shaped you? And yeah, why do you do the work that you do now?

VANESSA: You know, I’ve always been really proud of what we did, what we do here. And I think that in the back of my mind, I’ve always thought about coming to work here because I felt like it was such important work and there were so many people in my life who would let me know that they also were struggling. So, people in high school, people in college when um whenever people knew what I did or what my father did, they would take me to the side and share these stories with me. And so, I’ve been very aware of this growing up. He was very aware of it raising us, you know, he, we didn’t have scales in the house, and he was very careful of what kind of magazines we had and things like that was very different. And I think other people’s childhood because he was very aware, he saw some of the things that happened and wanted to make sure that we, I didn’t grow up thinking about that. So, we were very much raised that way where we were not thinking about food in that way. And so, um it had an influence and I think that he raised, I’m one of four kids, there’s three daughters in our family and we were all raised very aware of what can happen and making sure that we were aware of that as we grew up.

VANESSA: So, yeah, I’ve always been proud of the mission. I didn’t know if I would actually come into the business. My father actually had a rule for all four kids that none of us could go straight into the business after we graduated from college, he didn’t want us to end up here because we felt like we had too, or we didn’t know what we wanted to do with our lives. He wanted to make sure we truly cared about the mission and so he never expected any of us to actually join, but I have always had a love for what Renfrew does and I’ve always felt really connected to it, I felt like it’s really important, it’s unique and as I graduated college, I ended up working in politics and having a career on Capitol Hill and I would hear about what was going on in the business and I was always calling my father and talking to him about what he was thinking and he started talking to me about the legacy and what was the next step and there were a lot of people approaching him trying to buy the company and he didn’t want to sell. He wanted to make sure there was a future and so I told him one time I want to come back to Philadelphia, I want to work with you, I don’t want you to sell this. And so, he was thrilled, beyond thrilled. I mean, he always hoped that someone in the family would come back. Um, but he never expected it. And so, I moved back to Philadelphia, and it’s been more than 15 years now and it’s been an incredible experience and was a great decision to come back here.

SAM: Wow, that’s amazing. I didn’t realize that, you know, he really wanted to wait and see who in the family might be passionate about this work. And I really love this idea of bringing in all these therapeutic concepts into your home where you are a little girl and you know, your dad is bringing in all these concepts that really, we use with our patients, you know what magazines are, are people looking at what are the tv shows and scales. These are the same recommendations we give to families, you know, and, and it’s so cool that he just incorporated that so early on. I mean back in the eighties when like, no one even knew what the heck is an eating disorder. No one really understood it. And your dad’s bringing in all these like therapeutic concepts, um that’s amazing.

VANESSA: And you know, before he started, and he actually didn’t know what an eating disorder was either. So, he ended up getting the idea from one of his friends, he was looking for a business development idea. He had been working, he was a healthcare attorney, and working at a psych hospital and his friend was treating patients with eating disorders up in Boston and said you should start eating disorder facility. And my father said, “What’s an eating disorder?”.

VANESSA: I mean, this was in 1982, he had never heard of it, he didn’t know what it was, it was not spoken about. And he started doing research and meeting patients all over the country and he met with professionals, and he realized there was this whole need, and nobody was out there treating these patients except for hospitals and outpatient. There was absolutely nothing else. And he knew there was a better way, but when he was trying to get Renfrew started, it was a tough challenge because nobody had heard of an eating disorder. So, he had to try to convince the banks and the property and zoning boards and convince insurance companies and all these different things and nobody had heard of it. And so, it wasn’t even just convincing them to support Renfrew, but supporting the eating sort of field and people had not heard of it. So, it really was a completely different time. It can be hard to think back to those times because it’s changed so much over the years, but in those days, nobody knew what it was and it was really a challenge to get all of those things to come together.

SAM: Right, to try to convince people to fund it and to come work with him and it was so cutting edge and he managed to do that, which is incredible. Which sort of brings me to my next question that I wanted to ask. I was wondering Vanessa, if you could say a little bit more about the ways Renfrew has changed and grown over the years, and also I think the ways it stayed the same, I think, you know, one of the most interesting things about Renfrew when I learned about the history is, you know, back in 1985 when, I mean, you think about it binge eating disorder wasn’t even in the DSM until relatively recently, and what I’ve learned is that we have been treating binge eating disorder even back in the eighties when there wasn’t even really a name for it, which is incredible. So, I just feel like we’ve sort of always been cutting edge and I’m just wondering from your perspective, how do you think, you know, Renfrew has grown?

VANESSA: Yeah, so, I think what you’re saying is so true, I think in so many ways we have grown and then in so many ways we stayed the same. So, when we started, we opened the doors and we wanted to create this healing community of patients who came in and we weren’t sure who was going to show up, you know, my father really did not know who would be here and people were more aware of anorexia because Karen Carpenter, who had been a very famous singer songwriter, had passed away. And so, people were more familiar with anorexia, they were even just starting to know what bulimia was. That was really the beginning when the term was coined. But when the patients started coming in, they had all these disorders that we’re seeing today. And so, yes, Renfrew started treating all of those and we also started seeing all ages. There was this misconception that it was only Caucasian adolescent women who had it, adolescent girls, and that was not the case. Some of the earliest patients who came in were in their fifties. And so, I think very early on at, we started to see that it was not the patient, that was the stereotype that people thought had and eating disorders, it impacted so many other communities, and it was a much more diverse community. And so that has been from the beginning, I think that what has changed over the years certainly is the way that we have done treatment. We we’ve always been based on community. We’ve always felt like people heal through relationships and the relational connection is really important but at the same time there was no research into eating disorders, so really our professionals were doing their best to figure out the best way to treat the patient and we adapted over time and then over the years we started to be able to do research, we started to look into different evidence based theories and that’s when we were really able to start to develop the treatment models that we now have today, the Unified Treatment Model and that was based off of previous research we had and what was going on in the field and that was certainly not around when we started. So that has changed, but I still think the core element of Renfrew has stayed the same. It is about community; it is about empowering patients to change their lives. It is a multidisciplinary team, it was set up that way so that it wasn’t one person making all the decisions for the patient, it’s really, every discipline, is just as important as every other one and the patient is and what they feel is just as important as well and really working collaboratively. So, the core of that peace and healing through nature and all of that has really remained the same and I’m really proud of that, but we have absolutely been able to improve and add and be able to add specialized programming and treat more diverse clients and I think there’s been a lot of improvements we’ve also been able to make over the years.

SAM: Absolutely, you know, we’ll have an episode on the treatment model with Melanie Smith for our listeners and she, I mean she’s amazing, she’s the Training Director and and on that episode will go into detail about how you treat an eating disorder and how do you treat all the other, you know, other issues that we so frequently see with eating disorders. I also just wanted to mention quickly, you know, part of my role at Renfrew is also, I’m a representative for the alums, you know, so, and particularly the alums who have been in residential and invariably what I hear from them, I mean these are folks who have been in recovery, some for like 20 years, you know, or maybe some for only a few years. But the common thread I hear is that one of one of the biggest reasons why they felt like they could recover successfully were the connections that they made with the other patients and some of whom they’re still in touch with and they still text when they’re struggling or you know, they invite them to their weddings and I mean these are like lifelong friends and it doesn’t even matter if I’m talking to an alum who was back, you know, in treatment in the 90s and someone who just discharges, it’s the same story that I healed because I met other people who were going through the same thing and other people who get it and that in and of itself is so healing just to have that community I think many times with eating disorders folks I hear, you know, and you know, when they’re contemplating treatment, it’s like I should be able to do this alone, I can do this alone, I can do this at home and then what they find out is that it’s actually the connections not only with their treatment team but with the other residents that that really helps.

ASHLEY: I like to tell people when I came to The Renfrew Center, I had been licensed in the state of Tennessee for a while and I fell in love with the Unified Treatment Model. I mean that was really and that’s the theory that we practice, the theory that we treat our clients with and the level of community and relational building and learning how to exist as myself, but also learning how to exist as myself among other people. I just think is so critical to somebody’s growth and to somebody’s health and so that aspect I just think is wonderful. I love that about our treatment model.

ASHLEY: Vanessa, I’m also curious is there something unique you want to share about The Renfrew Center, like what sets The Renfrew Center apart. I mean, I know we’re talking about the relationship with the community, the Unified Treatment Model. Those are all definitely unique to us, but what else would you like to share with us about The Renfrew Center?

VANESSA: Sure, there is so much, I’m obviously very proud of the fact that we’ve remained a family business. This has been something that has been a challenge to do for since 1985 to stay privately owned. And I think because we are privately owned, there’s a lot of advantages to that. We don’t have a large bureaucracy here. There isn’t this big system that people must go through. We’re able to adapt quickly and we were able to do that when the pandemic happened and we had to switch to virtual, we were able to do that that quickly. When employees have new ideas like you both have this idea for this wonderful podcast, were able to move forward with it, you know, and I think that’s it’s a nice spirit to it being family owned. I’m proud of the clinical care that we provide at the end of the day. That is the most important thing. And we really make all our decisions based off of that and were able to fund research and training and all these department because we really value it and that’s something that is important to us. I think the fact that we have so many staff who have worked here for so long, the longevity is, is incredible and unique and especially currently where people are often, you know, moving around to different places. If you look at our leadership teams, if you look at the people who have been with us, there’s a lot of opportunity for advancement, which both of you have seen and I’m really proud of that that we have so many of our employees that have been here from the early days and have been part of us evolving and adapting, but we continue to stay part of this Renfrew family. And so, I think that’s something that’s unique and that that sets us apart and I’m proud of that. We have stayed the same as we grow as we add facilities or we add other things, it’s standardized. You know, we are not going out there and just buying other places and then just putting our name on it. If it says Renfrew, it’s Renfrew, it is that we have started it from the ground up, we’ve trained the staff, you have the same philosophy of treatment, we have the same meals, all of that. It’s important that if our name is on it, that it represents us, and we take pride in the name that we have built and plan to continue to do that. So, I think that is unique, but something we’re very committed to that if you see Renfrew on the door. It means that it is The Renfrew Center. It means that you are going to find a healing community of patients with the best clinicians to really be able to help heal.

SAM: Yeah! With the same approach, the same language. I think that’s so important when you know someone’s program, especially if they’re programming at a higher level of care like residential and then they maybe step down to a day treatment program. They know that there’s going to be that familiar treatment model, that familiar approach and it’s all the same language which I think really helps with the transition because it can be scary leaving, you know, sort of like the bubble of residential and then you know, stepping back down maybe to your hometown and going to a day treatment center or an intensive outpatient program. I think that’s something that’s really cool about us.

ASHLEY: And just to add on that we are across the country, we have 19 locations across the country. And now really with the work that we’ve been doing over the last couple of years, we were kind of already setting this in place, but we have virtual options for pretty much anyone across the country. So, that is an incredible thing that we’re offering now to reach any of those clients that are in areas that treatment doesn’t exist.

VANESSA: It’s been incredible with telehealth to see how we’ve been able to get into these communities, where people have been isolated, they may not know anyone who has an eating disorder, they’re really feeling alone and now they are able to connect with all of these peers virtually. It’s been a wonderful thing that has happened and it’s something as you said, we always wanted to do, but the pandemic really allowed it to happen and it’s something that is here to stay and something we’re really committed to, because we’re not going to be able to open in every single city everywhere, but there’s people with eating disorders everywhere. And so, we really want to have as much access to care as possible. And people are limited by that. And so, it’s been nice to have them join our programs and to be able to join the community and to feel like they’re supported, and they instantly build this community virtually, and it’s been pretty incredible.

SAM: Yes! Well, and another thing that, that reminds me of is, and when we’re talking about accessibility, you know, as part of being the alumni representative for Renfrew. What I love is that once you leave Renfrew, you have access to all these free services. I mean monthly, I run a support group for any patient who has ever been in residential treatment, whether it was like back in the eighties or they just got out and, and I, and we have, you know, attendees from all over the country who can come together for free support group and I just, I think it’s so cool to be able to access those kind of things when even after you leave, it’s like the healing continues, you know, with free webinars and, and free reunions every year. It’s just such a, such a cool thing to see everyone come back together.

VANESSA: One of my favorite days has always been the Reunion. Seeing everybody come back and people coming from all over and we’ve had people travel from Canada and you know, come in and they’ve brought their family members and they really connect, and they’ve made lifelong friends. They’re all together and getting to see that and getting to see them come back to the place where it all happened or it all started and to see that community, it’s such a wonderful reminder of why we do what we do and to see that it’s just, it’s, it’s exactly what you need to see to keep going. There are obviously some challenges that we continue to have to push with insurance and all these other things that we deal with, but when you see the alumni and you see them come back and see the success, that what makes it all worth it at the end of the day.

SAM: Yeah, absolutely! You know, I always talk about accessibility and how important it is and there’s so many challenges around it. And one of the things that we do each year, you know, we try to train other professionals so that they can go out and do eating disorder work. And one of the ways that we do that in a big way is the Renfrew Conference. We’ve been doing that for over 30 years now, where literally thousands and thousands of providers have been trained through the Renfrew Conference and I have gone to the Renfrew Conference since I started working here, obviously I presented at the Renfrew Conference, but you know, we have these keynote speakers and I’m always amazed at the level of expertise and really celebrity that we really get at the rent for conference. I saw Gloria Steinem, Monica Lewinsky, Patrick Kennedy, just all these advocates in the field and people with their own stories about mental health and healing and, and I was just really curious Vanessa because I mean, you’ve been at the Renfrew Conference, I mean, how many Renfrew Conferences have you been to now?

VANESSA: So, I was going to them before I even worked here, and I started 18 years ago. When I was in college, I would take the train in and come to them so I couldn’t even count, more than 20.

ASHLEY: That is amazing.

SAM: That’s amazing! I was actually wondering you know who out of the keynotes, who to you has been the most fascinating to see and why and maybe what surprises you each year at the conference. I’m just so curious because you’ve seen so many of these keynotes, I’ve seen a handful and every year these keynotes just stick with me, it’s just these amazing stories about resilience and healing and I was just curious what stood out to you.

VANESSA: Yeah, it’s hard, I mean it’s hard to pick, we’ve had so many incredible keynotes over the years, one of the people who definitely stands out to me is Gloria Steinem because we have had her now three times and the first time I met her, I was a lot younger and I just remember I got to have time just to sit down one on one and talk to her and she was talking to me about my life and what I was thinking of doing and things like that and she was so supportive and so down to earth and then when she came back the next time I met with her and I said I’m now here at Renfrew and she’s really excited and she loved the idea that I was working here. Personally, it’s been really wonderful getting to see her over the years and she’s an incredible speaker, but also just really such a great person behind the scenes and really you know, when you meet people who you’ve seen on TV, you hope that they’re going to be as great as they are and I think that’s one of those things that stood out to me and I would say that about our keynotes in general. You know, there are people that you see on TV and they may seem larger than life, but when you actually meet them, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet with them one on one and often have lunch with them before they speak and they really are just very normal down to earth people. And what has always surprised me is how impressed they are with us and the work that we do. So, they are really appreciated. They understand that it’s really difficult work that the clinicians who are attending the conference do every day. And so, they feel very honored to be able to talk to all the professionals and to give them hope and to sort of give them this renewed energy that people leave the conference with, whether it’s in person or virtually, I think people leave our conference feeling excited and our keynotes are really aware of what we do. They’re aware of eating disorders, whether they personally have struggled with it or someone in their lives, you know, eating disorders impacts everybody. And so, every time that we’ve had keynotes come in, they’ve talked about how it’s impacted their lives in one way or another and they’re just so grateful for the work that we’re doing and that the whole field is doing, trying to help with all these patients.

ASHLEY: I think it’s a testament to write. Like the fact that Renfrew has been around since ’85, what you spoke to earlier, Vanessa, the advocacy work that our company has been able to do across borders, across the insurance world, across just kind of like getting it out there to the world, what an eating disorder even is, educating the masses. Um, and then, you know, letting them know how we can also help the clients and stuff too. I mean, I think it’s a testament to that, that we even get these incredible keynotes and I have to say I was star struck last year with Gabreibery SidibeI, I was so excited that she was here and it was such an honor to hear her story and just have her share, you know with us, but with all of the professionals, anybody that was listening and I think you’re right, with the conference every year, I leave excited and like ready, you know, kind of on fire ready to do this work.

SAM: Exactly!

VANESSA: I think all the things you touched upon is the work that our Foundation does, The Renfrew Center Foundation and my father started in 1990. So, in the early days and the way that he started it was because we realized very early on, after a few years that we had treated more patients with eating disorders than really anybody else. And so, there was a lot to learn, and professionals kept asking, can you teach us what you’ve learned? And so, people would fly in from all over the country and they would crowd into our living room here in Philadelphia and they would cram into the room, and we would do these trainings. Eventually, we started to outgrow the space. And that was when he decided to start this foundation and start the conference. And so, he started the foundation in 1990 with the goal of prevention and education and advocacy. And then he also started the conference, and that’s when it started in 1991 and it really came out of this need to train professionals. And so, we decided to go off site, started the conference and I think that’s been a really important piece of it because in addition to the business side of it, it’s really raising awareness about it. We are in a unique position, people know us and we have a voice and the media come to us for interviews and you know, we have this opportunity to get out there and really train and educate, raise awareness and raise money for scholarships, you know, all of this important work and advocacy. My father was one of the founders of the eating disorder coalition and he’s been president and he, you know, goes to Washington DC regularly to lobby and also on the state level for legislation, helped with mental health parity, all of these important things that really are so important that we have to have the legislation and the support from Washington to be able to do what we’re doing and to help it really makes an impact on all of these patients around the country.

SAM: Exactly, yeah, exactly! It’s necessary to be doing that work at a legislative level. It’s part of the work really and it’s just it’s so cool. I’ve been a part of that actually, your dad sent me to go lobby on Capitol Hill, which was just an amazing experience.

ASHLEY: Yeah, that’s cool!

SAM: It was amazing. I was telling Vanessa about it afterwards. But yeah, it’s just it’s part of the work and if you’re not doing that part, you’re missing a big piece.

VANESSA: I would encourage anyone listening who wants to get involved. You know, I think so many times people wonder how they can get started or what they can do, and you know, looking at what the Eating Disorder Coalition is doing, they have lobby days, you can do it virtually. So, you don’t even have to travel now, and you get to meet your representatives and talk about it. And there’s so many important pieces of legislation going before congress that really do make a difference in the day to day lives of patients. Mental health parity was really one of the most important, but there are others going on right now. So, I would encourage anyone who wants to get involved. They will train you. You don’t have to have experience, but it’s a really nice way to help the field and to feel like you’re really making a difference.

SAM: Absolutely! Sending an email, signing petitions, or calling your representatives, there are so many ways to get involved if you’re not able to travel. It’s so crucial that that we’re combating that on that level.

VANESSA: And having worked on Capitol Hill before, I was always following all of the pieces of legislation and things that the eating disorder field was doing. And it’s been nice to now come on this side and be able to help. But I can say that the offices do look at how many emails come in and what people, their constituents think about issues that’s crucial. And so even though it might just feel like a form letter, it might just feel like you’re making a phone call, they are looking at that. And so, it really does make a difference. And so if you get involved and you actually do reach out, all of that matters and starts to make a difference.

SAM: Vanessa, I’m wondering for our listeners, would you be able to talk a little bit about mental health parity and what that means?

VANESSA: Sure. So, when Renfrew first started, there was no coverage for mental health, for eating disorders. And so, my father was able to get a specific contract to cover residential eating disorders. However, what happened over the years is that people would have their plans, their insurance plans and they would have all these medical benefits and then they would have almost nothing on the mental health side, sometimes nothing, sometimes very little. And so, what all of these different mental health organizations, the eating disorder field, but also drug and alcohol, all these other places joined together to try to get mental health parity, which says that if you have an insurance plan, whatever coverage you have on the medical side, you have to have on the mental health side. So, it can’t have a plan that is just covering medical without mental health benefits. And so that is, you know, it was a huge win and being able to say that the plans had to be set up that way. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, if you have a plan and you look at what you have on your medical side, you will have the same coverage on the mental health side. And so, that really made a big difference. There are a lot of lawsuits that had to then happen to enforce it and you know, there are still some loopholes, but, before that you would just see people just didn’t have coverage. And so, we know that most people who are struggling with an eating disorder, they need insurance coverage to be able to afford treatment. Almost nobody can afford it privately. And so, that was something that my father is really committed to from the early days was insurance. He did not want this to be a facility were only people who are very wealthy could access care. He just, he did not want that. And so, he made a point from the time he opened to go for insurance contracts but there have been lots of changes in the field over the years in the insurance world. So, having legislation like mental health parity has really been, so crucial to be able to continue the work, not just that we do, but everybody who’s struggling with mental health and needs any kind of access to care. This now ensures that they have that coverage.

ASHLEY: That’s incredible that we could be a part of that, you know and help that for really generations to come, help our clients for generations to come.

VANESSA: Absolutely!

ASHLEY: So changing gears a little bit Vanessa, I’m just curious, we talked, Sam and I talked a little bit about why we wanted to start the podcast and just extending the reach, really just kind of making our community broader and bigger. I’m just curious what you thought about the idea of the podcast and us getting out there.

VANESSA: I love the idea, I think one of the things that we have tried to do from the beginning with Renfrew is to try to reach as many people as possible and to share the message of hope that with treatment you can recover and so anytime we can get in front of new people or get in front of people in a different way it’s great and people love podcasts, people are always listening to them. And so I think it was a wonderful idea, I think about all the different things that you can do with this and the ways that we can reach people and I think you’re both the perfect people to cohost and I’m excited to see what you do with it.

ASHLEY: We’re so excited to get it out, you know, we have some great people lined up that we’re doing some interviews with and again, just really excited to be with the community, you know, with this. So thinking about that, we have, hopefully we have past clients, we’ve got future clients, we’ve got the community members, we have professionals listening to the podcast. Is there anything that you would like to just kind of leave our listeners with today, Vanessa?

VANESSA: Well thank you for having me! This has been wonderful. I would say to start, you know, knowing that there are many current patients and former patients who are listening. I would like to thank them for allowing us to be part of the recovery journey at the end of the day. Everything that we do is about the patients and about their care and for them to trust us and to allow us to be part of that is really an honor and to all of the professionals who are listening for them to also trust us with their patients and to allow us to be part of that journey and to collaborate with us. We just have the most wonderful professional community out there which is really an extension of what we do and you know, I’m really appreciative of that and I just want to let you know that Renfrew is going to continue to be the leaders in the field, to really continue to be trailblazers, to try to help the field, to continue the legacy that my father has built. I’m, I’m very committed to that, and you know, we are, we’re excited about what’s to come. We have a lot of great plans, and we know now more than ever people need treatment and need the support and need the help. And so, we are here, and we are really committed to that and to continuing to grow and evolve in the future. But I just want to thank everybody for listening today.

SAM: Thank you so much Vanessa. This was so fun to learn all about the history and your experience with Renfrew. I really appreciate you coming on and a big thank you to our audience listening and I hope that you join us for future episodes.

SAM: See you next time.

ASHLEY: Thank you for listening with us today on All Bodies. All Foods. presented by The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders.

SAM: We’re looking forward to joining us next time as we continue these conversations.

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