Eastman Institute for Oral Health was given a Special Olympics Healthy Communities Partner of Excellence Award, for its ongoing commitment to a world in which all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families live in dignity, with equal rights and access to health care services and resources.
“Eastman has been a partner in this work even before we started our Healthy Communities project,” said Onolee Stephan, MPH, director, Special Olympics’ Community Health Program, “through their Oral Health Task Force.”
The task force was formed in 2012 by EIOH and the Golisano Foundation to identify gaps and barriers that explain why dental care is the number one unmet healthcare need. Among the many recommendations that resulted from this effort were to increase the number of providers and their skills when treating patients with special needs.
In the same year, the Golisano Foundation pledged $12 million to the Special Olympics to launch Healthy Communities, issuing a call to action to community stakeholders to help close the healthcare gap experienced by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In addition to poor oral health, people with IDD struggle with obesity, hearing and vision loss and low bone density.
Healthy Communities was launched in six U.S. states and eight countries, and is expanding the principles of healthy living to a steady presence in the lives of Special Olympics athletes and their families. It is also aims to educate healthcare professionals about working with people with ID, which EIOH has also embraced.
“We are proud to be a part of this effort and conduct dental screenings at Special Olympics’ games throughout the year,” said Holly Barone, RDH, MS, chief administrative officer at EIOH. “We are breaking down barriers two ways – first, by introducing dentists to patients with special needs and in turn, providing a positive dental experience for patients.”
Hani Alsibai, BDS, who is training to be an Orofacial Pain specialist at EIOH, is one such dentist who was introduced to patients with special needs for the first time at an event earlier this year.
“I was definitely nervous,” Dr. Alsibai remembered. “I was unfamiliar with what I should do, because I thought this kind of patient would be uncooperative, have difficulty communicating or get angry easily.”
But his anxiety disappeared in the first few minutes. “I watched the dentists doing their jobs, how they approached the patient and conducted the oral screenings, and then I started doing the same thing,” he said.
Dr. Alsibai enjoyed the experience so much, that he volunteered again in June, at the 2015 Special Olympics NY State Summer Games at SUNY Brockport. “I’ve learned a few strategies to initially gain the patient’s trust. They are friendly, cooperative and compliant. Besides the screenings, it was a great chance to meet the patients’ parents, and other providers.”
He noticed at both events, that many athletes have worn teeth, which usually occur when people clench or grind their teeth, and could cause other symptoms like headaches or pain, a common complaint for patients with TMJ disorders.
“I’m very glad to have this exposure and experience, and will definitely welcome patients with IDD in my future practice,” he added.
Throughout the year at Special Olympics events, dozens of EIOH residents have had similar experiences as Dr. Alsibai, thanks to the dedication of those who have provided education and training to them.
“A special thanks to Drs. Lisa DeLucia, Maricelle Abayon, Vineela Redla and Abra Caroci for their ongoing commitment and leadership,” said Ms. Barone, “and to all who volunteer for taking the time from their personal lives and families to provide this extremely important work.”
The dental screenings have revealed that one in four athletes have untreated tooth decay, and10 percent have pain or infection. “Eastman has opened their doors and welcomed our athletes as patients,” Ms. Stephan said. “We can’t thank Eastman enough for all their work.”
At the Summer Games, EIOH was privileged to be a part of the Healthy Athletes, where athletes received free health screenings in one location, including dental, vision, hearing, biometrics and health education, stress management, podiatric care, and strength and flexibility.
Special Olympics President and CEO Neal Johnson spoke to the healthcare providers before the events started. “Special Olympics is often the only time athletes they will see a medical professional to find out if they can be helped, and that happens because of Healthy Communities and professionals like each and every one of you,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many people have come up to us after events like these to tell us they’ve decided to pursue a practice in special needs populations because of this experience. Thank you for who you are and doing what you do.”
“The event was unique in that we were able to collaborate with dental professionals from various stages of training and institutions,” said Dr. DeLucia. “Dental professionals from Eastman, University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Dentistry, the local community and RGH came together to screen some 260 athletes. For some, this was their first interaction with Special Olympics athletes and their energy and enthusiasm was contagious.”
Other Partner of Excellence Award winners include Arc of Monroe, Healthy Highway, Heritage Christian Services, Monroe Community College, Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities at the University of Rochester, and YMCA of Greater Rochester.