Special Olympics athletes get free health exams

When more than 4,000 Special Olympics athletes arrive in Seattle to compete in the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games this summer, they’ll receive free health exams and medical care from about 1,500 medical volunteers — including 456 representatives from Kaiser Permanente. As the Official Health Partner for the Games, Kaiser Permanente is responsible for managing all on-site medical care for the athletes. We’re also providing health screenings and health education, which are essential elements of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® program.

Healthy Athletes offers specialized care

The Healthy Athletes program provides access to free health exams and preventive health care services for athletes with intellectual disabilities (ID). Since the program began in 1997, Healthy Athletes has completed more than 2.1 million health screenings. It has also trained more than 240,000 health care professionals to provide ongoing care for people with ID in their own communities.

“Healthy Athletes offers a year-round model of healthy living, and teaches common-sense ways for athletes to achieve health goals,” says Susanna Block, MD, a Kaiser Permanente pediatrician and a clinical director at the Games. “It’s an amazing way to make sure people with ID get the screenings and health care they need.”

Health exams cover 7 areas of athletes’ health

Doctors and medical specialists from Kaiser Permanente and other health care organizations will be on hand at a health clinic specially created at the University of Washington for the Games. These medical experts will provide and oversee free screenings and services that cover:

  1. Foot care. Foot doctors will evaluate problems with the feet, ankles, and lower limbs.
  2. Ears. Ear doctors and hearing specialists will offer exams and services, including ear wax removal, swim molds to protect against “swimmer’s ear”, and hearing aid maintenance and repairs.
  3. Eyes. Eye doctors will check vision and eye health, and provide eyewear, sunglasses, and sports goggles if needed.
  4. Mouth. Dentists will provide comprehensive oral health exams and dental care tips.
  5. Physical therapy. Physical therapists will examine the flexibility of the athletes’ hamstrings, calf muscles, shoulder rotators, and hip flexor muscles. They will check the athletes’ balance, and the functional strength of the abdominal and lower extremity muscles.
  6. Mind and spirit. Mental health experts will offer coping skills to help the athletes strengthen and maintain emotional wellness under stress.
  7. Overall wellness. Health care educators will coach the athletes on how to improve and maintain a high level of wellness and self-care.

“Kaiser Permanente and Special Olympics have similar missions that include encouraging physical activity, inspiring community engagement, and supporting the health and well-being of the athletes,” says Jessie Fudge, MD, chief medical officer for the Games this summer. Dr. Fudge is program chief for Activity, Sports & Exercise Medicine at Kaiser Permanente. “Working with the athletes is inspiring. I do what I do because I love it.”