Niagara Gazette

April 21, 2013

Memorial joins Golisano Foundation, Special Olympics for Healthy Communities Initiative

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center is gaining some impressive partners.

Representatives from the Golisano Foundation and the Special Olympics were in the Falls this week to meet with hospital executives and discuss the implementation of the Healthy Communities initiative. The program, which is run through Special Olympics, is aimed at providing better health care services for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Joseph Ruffolo, the hospital’s president and chief executive officer, said the partners will aid the hospital in efforts to share information, train physicians and coordinate care for the intellectual disabilities community.

“This certainly will be the next phase with respect to providing care coordination, specifically with people with intellectual disabilities,” he said. “They have the same health care disparity issues that others do and quite often they fall through the cracks.”

The Special Olympics held a press conference at the University at Buffalo’s north campus Thursday afternoon to promote the organization’s 2013 State Summer Games, which will be held at venues throughout the area on June 15 and June 16.

Onolee Bock, the director of the Healthy Communities program for the organization, said that the event will give the partners an opportunity to try out some new technology and begin the process of care coordination in the region.

As athletes register they will receive a health screening and their health information will be gathered into a database using electronic tablets as part of a new program. That information will then be used to help health care providers better care for patients, Bock said.

“We’re having the first pilot of that program here at the summer games,” Bock said.

Bock said individuals with intellectual disabilities have a large disparity in terms of health issues such as tooth decay, hearing and obesity when compared to the general public. The collection and coordination of those individuals’ health status will help them get the care the need.

“That’s what Healthy Communities can help us to do,” Bock said. “To create partnerships with organizations like this hospital to try to address some of (those health issues) when athletes go back to their home communities.”

The program is part of a larger effort by the Golisano Foundation to support the Special Olympics in the organizations effort to expand health-related service for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The foundation, started by New York and Florida businessman B. Thomas Golisano, gave $12 million towards the organizations global push in September.

Ann Costello, the foundation’s director, said that most of the foundation’s work has concentrated on Western New York and southwest Florida, but this gift will have a greater impact.

“It’s the first gift that Tom Golisano has given that will have an international reach, as well as a broader reach in the United States,” she said.

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257.