Special Olympics BC says health services for people with intellectual disabilities need to be top of mind during the upcoming provincial election.
The organization is asking all candidates to commit, if elected, to a task force that would focus on those issues and include consultation with people who have intellectual disabilities and their caregivers.
Special Olympics BC said in a press release Wednesday that people with disabilities like Down Syndrome are severely marginalized in the health-care system and suffer alarming health outcomes as a result.
“Many individuals with intellectual disabilities have trouble expressing their health concerns. Many health professionals have not received specific training, or are not familiar enough with this population, to know the best questions to ask to draw out the issues,” the press release reads.
“Because of these hurdles, critical health conditions can be missed.”
President and CEO Dan Howe said recreational programs like Special Olympics have often served as a way for caregivers and professionals to check in on peoples’ health — and those have mostly been shuttered.
“One of the athletes who came to the games — and we do some athlete testing for health — and his feet were so infected that we had to rush them over to the hospital for fear of losing his feet,” he said.
“And we don’t have the opportunity to do that anymore.”
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He said apart from the new barriers to maintaining physical health, the pandemic has meant greater stresses to his athletes’ mental health too.
“So many of the athletes are finding they’re isolated, or forgotten even more and they’re challenged to be included in activities. They miss their friends,” he said.
“The rate of mental issues is going up as it is in everybody else. We may have ways to cope with that, but not all of our athletes are able to connect with their friends and colleagues over the internet.”
Howe said along with that, it’s now tougher for athletes to get enough exercise or receive a balanced diet — and said some of them may not have a school or job to go to right now.
“The pandemic has made things a lot worse,” he said.
The barriers people with intellectual disabilities face in the healthcare system — especially during the pandemic — can be life or death, he added.
“Our province’s citizens with intellectual disabilities are dying up to 20 years earlier than the general public,” Howe said.
“They experience two to three times more preventable hospitalization, and suffer dramatically higher rates of obesity, mental illness, overmedication.”
Howe said many of those issues aren’t inherently related to the patients’ intellectual disabilities, and are actually quite preventable.
He is asking every candidate in the provincial election to commit to addressing the discrepancies, and to include people with intellectual disabilities themselves in the conversation.
“We’d like anybody elected to commit to consulting with people with intellectual disabilities and their caregivers about what the challenges are, why we’ve gotten to this state, and how we can fix the problem and move out of it,” he said.