Earlier this summer, Los Angeles hosted the Special Olympics World Summer Games at venues throughout the city. The games featured more than 6,400 athletes from 177 countries who competed in 27 sports, including aquatics, gymnastics, track and field, basketball, football, tennis, and volleyball. Less well known is that a key component of the Special Olympics’ mission is the so-called “Healthy Athletes Program,” which provides free health evaluations for the athletes by a team of volunteer physicians, dentists, nurses, and medical students from across the US. Through that program, the Special Olympics is the largest public global health program serving individuals with intellectual disabilities and Arent Fox attorneys helped lay the legal groundwork to make that happen in Los Angeles.
Over the years, the Special Olympics organization found that participating athletes often do not receive the health care they need in their home countries and responded by providing health care services. Through the Healthy Athletes Program, Special Olympics World Games athletes received health care screenings that covered seven areas: a sports physical exam, audiology, dentistry, vision, podiatry, physical therapy, and general health and well-being exams. They then were prescribed further services or furnished needed items such as eyeglasses or well-fitting shoes, all without charge.
In the nine days spanning the 2015 Special Olympics World Games, a record 84 percent of athletes received care through the Healthy Athletes Program. All of the health services were provided by approximately 1,400 volunteers, including volunteer dentists who performed 2,768 dental exams. Additionally, more than 600 of the athletes received comprehensive dental care, such as: root canals, cleanings, scalings, extractions, partial dentures, and other procedures. The volunteer health care professionals performed 3,369 ear exams and more than 300 hearing aids were distributed. There were 3,369 eye exams completed and more than 1,300 prescription eyeglasses were provided to the athletes. In addition, 2,015 physical therapy and 4,489 foot exams were done. As a gift for participating in the Healthy Athletes screenings, more than 5,000 Special Olympics athletes received new shoes.