Individuals with intellectual disabilities are an underserved community in many respects, and healthcare is among the most important areas.
On average, people with ID die 16 years sooner than the general population due to denial of health services or undetected health issues.
In the last two decades, Special Olympics has made significant strides to change and save lives. The organization has improved the health of individuals with ID thanks to collaborations with healthcare providers, community organizations, universities and governments around the world.
In April 2018, Kaiser Permanente Southern California signed a three-year agreement as the “Official Health Partner” for Special Olympics Southern California.
Dr. Aaron Rubin, the chief medical officer for Special Olympics Southern California, oversees about 40 physicians and medical support staff who provide sideline medical care and assist with Healthy Athletes – a Special Olympics program founded in 1997 that provides athletes free health exams at competitions.
In Southern California, exams include screenings focused on: audiology, dentistry, health and well-being, physical therapy, podiatry, and vision.
“We’re about a lot of the same things Special Olympics is about: inclusiveness, diversity, and taking care of people,” Rubin said at Fall Games in November.
“The athletes appreciate everything done for them, from putting a Band-Aid on to some more serious injuries we can deal with. They’re just great. The physicians love seeing the athletes and the athletes get along really well with our staff.”
With better healthcare, the athletes are provided more than just the opportunity to continue playing sports in the long run, according to Dr. Ramin Zolfagari, who works with Kaiser Permanente Orange County and serves on Special Olympics Southern California’s board of directors.
Improved health also leads to better opportunities for education, employment and other avenues that allow them to contribute as members of society, he said.
“A lot of [people with ID] can be part of part of our community in many, many ways,” Zolfagari said. “Being part of Special Olympics, they find that path and gain confidence in life.
“I’m extremely grateful I could be part of this movement.”
For more information, please visit sosc.org/healthyathletes.
Inside the SOSC is a blog written by staff member Tracy McDannald. It is a more feature-style approach to looking inside what makes Special Olympics Southern California so unique, so special. It is meant to explore the people and their stories. One word at a time.