When the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games kick off at UCLA on Saturday with events in soccer and tennis, more than 100 UCLA Health employees will be staffing two clinics to ensure the health and well-being of spectators, Olympians, their coaches and chaperones.
From July 25 to August 2, an estimated 6,500 Special Olympics athletes from 165 countries will compete in 25 different sporting events, including tennis, swimming, soccer, gymnastics and track and field. Eight of those events will be held at UCLA. About half of the athletes and coaches —around 3,500 — will be arriving Friday to stay in seven residence halls on the Hill.
While the campus was the site for the third international Special Olympics event in 1972, the U.S. hasn’t hosted the World Summer Games since 1999. The last games were held in 2011 in Athens, Greece.
“This is the largest humanitarian event of its kind in the country and the biggest sporting event for the city of Los Angeles since the 1984 Summer Olympics,” said Mark Mayes, UCLA Health co-chair of the World Games and executive director of emergency, trauma services and performance excellence at UCLA Health. “This is a very big deal for UCLA Health and UCLA.”
“Although athletes undergo physical exams prior to coming to the games, many are coming from developing countries that don’t have very robust health systems,” said Dr. Daniel Vigil, a UCLA sports medicine and family medicine physician. He will oversee MedFest, the sports physical examination component of Special Olympics.
About 25 UCLA medical professionals will work to identify athletes in need of additional medical care through cardiac examinations and neurological screenings before they are cleared to play.
Dr. Vigil’s team is also part of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program, which provides the athletes with free health examinations in podiatry, physical therapy, audiology, vision, dentistry, sports physicals and general health.
Dr. Lynne McCullough, medical director of the emergency department at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, will oversee the Special Olympics Polyclinic that will be set up at the UCLA Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center.
“This is a triage or urgent-care center for injured athletes and others in need of medical attention during the world games,” said Dr. McCullough. About 70 medical professionals from UCLA Health will staff the polyclinic.
“We’ll be able to perform X-rays and routine lab work, assess injuries and tend to any non-emergency medical needs,” said Dr. McCullough.
To help prepare for such a large event, UCLA Health personnel participated in an event held at USC last summer. “We’ve tapped into our large pool of experts in sports medicine who have a great breadth of knowledge and experience working at large-scale sporting events, such as the L.A. Marathon and Ironman competitions,” Vigil said.
The UCLA Health team is also working closely with the City of Los Angeles Department of Health, as well as police and fire departments. “This is a very big undertaking for UCLA Health, and so many staff members are giving their time to make sure the world games are a success for everyone involved,” Mayes said.
Learn more about the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games and the special events scheduled over the next two weeks. Find out about volunteer opportunities by visiting the UCLA Volunteer Center. This story is posted on the UCLA Health Employee News website.