Pay it Forward: Kaiser Permanente physicians support Special Olympics
Kaiser Permanente sports medicine specialist Dr. Thad Woodward is passionate about event and disaster medicine. He has managed the medical responsibilities associated with a number of marathons. However, he’s never taken on a challenge like the one that awaited him this July.
“I’m a family physician by history,” Woodward said. “I do my specialty in sports. [But] I’m [also] a challenge junkie.”
As the regional medical co-lead for 2015 Special Olympics World Games, Woodward is managing medical care and planning for 5,500 to 7,000 visiting athletes from around the world. It’s a tremendous undertaking that requires more preparation than that of any other event he’s ever managed – the writing of the medical plan began in 2014 – and Woodward is excited to see it through.
For starters, he said, the diversity of athletes, which range in age from children to seniors, present “a higher percentage of co-morbidities,” and may speak any of a number of languages.
“You’ll see things like a young lady with a shunt between her brain and her abdomen that keeps the pressure low,” Woodward said. “That’s not something you’re going to see in a marathon.”
Then, the variety of games themselves presents a number of potential health and injury risks for which staff must be prepared. Special Olympians also receive health screenings at all the games – an important component of the event, as many of the athletes don’t necessarily enjoy a high standard of health care. Through the healthy athlete program, some participants have even been diagnosed with previously undiscovered cancers.
“For a marathon, you’re mainly focused on the medical possibilities that are going to come at you – heat, trauma, lacerations, abrasions,” Woodward said. “You need to have those ahead of time so when they occur you’ve already been taught to respond.”
Additionally, there’s simply the matter of scale associated with the event: more than 650 Kaiser Permanente physicians will be providing care for athletes at every field of play, including those at USC, UCLA, the Los Angeles Convention Center, and the City of Long Beach. They will be dispatched from a large command post (and smaller, sub-command posts) according to a structure similar to that of a fire department, Woodward said, with entire logistics teams dedicated to things as fundamental as the delivery of medical supplies.
“I’ve been doing these events a long time, and one of the weakest links is communications,” said Woodward. “We’ve set up secure networks at every field of play. When these physicians log onto the network, it’s a secure, tight network, all encrypted, and they’re going to be able to use instant messaging for the mundane requests of being out of supplies, etc.”
Each physician will be issued an iPad with secure, cloud-based medical software and a modified version of the RaceSafe global electronic medical record app optimized for the event. Doctors will be able to see treatment rendered to athletes on an individual level, all being managed in real-time, from a distance. In an emergency situation, the internal communication structure will allow physicians to be onsite along with first responders, to communicate in real-time via secure messaging and texting through doubly redundant cellular and satellite systems.
“Kaiser is very much into high-quality medicine in their hospitals,” Woodward said. “We’re always setting new standards in our hospital; now we’re doing it with our events.”
On that front, he said, perhaps none of the events in which Kaiser Permanente has participated “have matched quite so well with what we’re all about.”
“If you line up the Special Olympics goals and you look at ours, it’s part of who we are,” Woodward said. “Kaiser wants to improve the quality of care for special-needs patients, and this is an opportunity to jump all over it.”
As the official health partner of the Special Olympics World Games, Kaiser Permanente also wants to celebrate the synchrony of those goals by creating an inclusive environment for the visiting athletes that the company hopes will be embraced throughout the host community, said Diana Halper, Vice President of Integrated Brand Communications for Kaiser Permanente Southern California (KPSC).
The games are designed “to leave a legacy of a greater understanding about intellectual disabilities and a better environment for these special athletes,” Halper said. “[We want] to work with them to make sure that health care workers would have a better way to understand helping people with intellectual disabilities.”
To demonstrate its regional commitment to that cause, KPSC launched a campaign called “Be Brave.” Modeled after the Special Olympics motto – “Let me win; but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt” – the “Be Brave” campaign is intended to help athletes, volunteers, and fans of the games to develop an emotional connection with the cause that KPSC hopes will persist beyond the events themselves.
In launching the campaign, KPSC dedicated its Parade of Roses float to the Special Olympics, using an enlarged photograph of a local Special Olympian grinning after a race as one of its signature elements. The athlete in question was very introverted, Halper said, but after he saw the gigantic photograph of himself smiling so broadly, it changed his entire outlook on life. Within a year, he gained the confidence to become a Special Olympics ambassador – something his parents never thought he would ever want to do, she said.
“This all happened in one year, and it happened because he participated in his sport, he was cheered on, and he found his own self-esteem to be able to do more than he thought he could do,” Halper said.
“There’s a saying that hands that give are never empty,” Woodward said. “When you get involved in these events, you will get more back from these athletes than you ever give.”
“You can’t walk away untouched,” he said.