Sideline care is top-notch at the USA Games

Physicians and medical volunteers were well-prepared and poised to provide on-the-spot care for well over 3,000 athletes participating in this year’s 2018 Special Olympics USA Games. Kaiser Permanente, the Official Health Partner of the Games, coordinated the effort.

More than 1,500 volunteers from across the state provided services and support to the athletes and spectators throughout the week of competition and special events, with 456 of our own Kaiser Permanente representatives watching over the action.

Many providers had never met before partnering to provide care. “We figured out what each of us does well and combined those talents to provide the best care,” said Stephen Lee, MD, an anesthesiologist who works for Kaiser Permanente in Washington state.

A sideline care provider at work at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games
A sideline care provider at work at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games

Most of the care provided was for nonemergent medical issues: abrasions, swollen joints, muscle cramps, bloody noses, headaches, strains, and sprains. “A lot of medical needs come up when you get a large crowd together, and athletes, family members, and coaches needed minor care. There were some blood pressure concerns, some minor cuts and nicks, and some strains — which reinforces the importance of stretching before you exercise,” said Bill Baluch, a physician assistant with Kaiser Permanente.

Care providers on the field for flag football on the last day of competition roamed the sidelines passing out ice-cold cooling towels to give athletes relief on a beautiful but hot day. Kirsten Robinson, MD, a family physician with Kaiser Permanente in Spokane, Washington provided sideline care at the tennis courts. “One of the medical conditions we’re treating is overheating. The players are staying in the shade, but the family members are out in the hot sun watching,” she said.

Sideline medical care was provided at numerous courts and fields, rooms and gyms, a pool, a track, a lake, a golf course, and a bowling alley — all in the Seattle area.

Motivated by medicine and heart

A sideline care provider at work at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games
Sideline care providers at Husky Track for the athletics events

The reasons people gave for volunteering were as diverse as the athletes and their sports. Some clinicians had personal motivations, such as a family member with a disability. Some wanted to show the country that Seattle is a great host city. Some wanted to highlight Kaiser Permanente’s personalized care. Some wanted to share their skills and pick up new ones. But the thing they all had in common was an appreciation and reverence for the camaraderie and good sportsmanship of the athletes.

“It’s so inspiring to see all these athletes who have worked so hard to get here. Many of them have been training and preparing for years,” said Neem Bhatt, MD, a family physician with Kaiser Permanente in Federal Way, Washington. Robin Moore, a Kaiser Permanente physician assistant in Bellevue, Washington said, “The athletes are great. It’s good work. It’s what we do, and it helps promote Kaiser Permanente’s care and what we’re all about.”

Several volunteers were driven by the larger purpose of the Special Olympics. “I appreciate what this event is doing to promote inclusion,” said Danielle Bellotti, DO, a pediatrician who practices at Kaiser Permanente in Tacoma, Washington. Michelle Hunter, a physician assistant at our Capitol Hill Campus in Seattle, said, “This is a nice opportunity to use what we do in a different way and be part of this celebration.”

Stephen Lee, MD, Kaiser Permanente anesthesiologist
Stephen Lee, MD, Kaiser Permanente, is all smiles as he mans his sideline-care post at the track and field events.

Some showed up simply because they were asked, and walked away with heart-warming memories. “At volleyball and basketball, the good sportsmanship that was on display and the care that the athletes had for each other was wonderful to see,” Dr. Lee said. He heeded the call of Kaiser Permanente Washington executives. “They sent out a request for volunteers and I signed up. It’s been great. The athletes are wonderful.”

A retired nurse who volunteered for the event said it best: “It’s a privilege for me to be here, and I’m a better person for the experience. Special Olympics is a model for the inclusivity and acceptance that our whole country needs, and these athletes are leading the way. We all need to follow them.”