Athletes receive thousands of free health screenings

Providing athletes with free health screenings and health care is an important part of every Special Olympics event, and Kaiser Permanente spearheaded the effort as the Official Health Partner of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games. Throughout the Games, 615 providers screened 1,762 athletes and completed 7,125 screenings.

Healthy Athletes Opening Eyes sign
One of several Healthy Athletes stations at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games

The Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® program operated out of a medical clinic specially created by Kaiser Permanente on the University of Washington campus. Throughout each day and early evening of the Games, the clinic was a bustle of activity as athletes were guided through a multi-step process of health screenings The screenings included podiatry (Fit Feet), vision (Opening Eyes), dentistry (Special Smiles), physical therapy/fitness (Fun Fitness), nutrition and healthy habits (Health Promotion), audiology (Healthy Hearing), and emotional well-being (Strong Minds).

When athletes reach “the finish line” of the screenings, they got a backpack and water bottle courtesy of Kaiser Permanente and a free pair of special-edition USA Games athletic shoes from Brooks — great motivation for completing much-needed health care.

Overlooked health issues are common among athletes

Despite severe need and higher health risks, people with intellectual disabilities are often denied basic health care and services and are among the most vulnerable populations in any country.

Some key findings from the Healthy Athletes screenings:

  • Fit Feet: 51% of athletes screened were wearing the wrong size shoes.
  • Healthy Hearing: 23% of the athletes didn’t pass their hearing test.
  • Health Promotion: 42% of adult athletes screened were obese, 18% had low bone density screenings, and 15% were found to be at risk for hypertension.
  • Fun Fitness: 67% of athletes screened needed help improving balance, 41% to improve strength, 77% to improve flexibility, and 10% to improve aerobic fitness.
  • Special Smiles: 6% of screened adult athletes received an urgent referral to a dentist, 8% were in pain, and 18% had untreated tooth decay.

Going the extra mile for the athletes

One of the heroes of our Healthy Athletes program is Janice Clifton, a clinical integration consultant in Eye Care at our Capitol Hill Campus. “I got a call at 7:30 on Sunday morning telling me that the phoropter machines we needed for eye exams weren’t going to arrive in time and we’d have to cancel the athletes’ exams we had scheduled for Sunday evening.

Janice Clifton, clinical integration consultant in Eye Care for Kaiser Permanente, with a phoropter
Janice Clifton, clinical integration consultant in Eye Care for Kaiser Permanente, with one of the phoropters she helped bring to Healthy Athletes.

“Well, I wasn’t going to stand for that,” she said cheerfully. “I got my husband out of bed, told him to grab his toolbox, and we headed to the Capitol Hill Campus to round up enough phoropters, plus all the other equipment that was needed.”

The huge machines, which weigh in at more than 500 pounds each, are used to determine eyeglass prescriptions. Each one had to be disassembled, loaded on a truck, transported to the UW, then reassembled at the Healthy Athletes clinic. “It took us all day and we couldn’t have done it without 2 guys from Boeing who helped, and a wonderful woman from Special Olympics. Everyone had a great sense of humor and was so willing to think outside the box. We were all in it for the good of the athletes.”

A moving experience for clinician volunteers

Wende Wood, MD, an internist at our downtown Seattle medical office, was especially touched by her volunteer experience at the Games. “I had a family member who had a severe mental disorder, so it’s really moving to see how kind and gentle, but not patronizing, everyone is at Special Olympics,” she said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to provide care, and I probably wouldn’t have come if Kaiser Permanente hadn’t been involved and encouraged me to participate.”

A retired ER nurse who was taking blood pressure readings at Healthy Athletes says she was working as slowly as she possibly could. “I didn’t want the athletes to get up from the chair,” she admits. “It was so uplifting to hear their stories — their background, and all the struggles and work that went into getting here. They were all so stressed, so I told them to relax their shoulders, close their eyes, and imagine themselves in their favorite place. The tension started draining out of them.”

This volunteer had high praise for Kaiser Permanente’s management of health care at the Games. “The whole thing has been a class act, from the training before the event through all the coordination and logistics. I’ve been very impressed.”

The Kaiser Permanente backpack given to athletes who visited the Healthy Athletes program and completed screenings