Special Olympics Washington proudly announced the launch of the “Alliance for Inclusive Health,” a groundbreaking initiative aimed at providing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in Washington State greater access to inclusive healthcare. This new initiative, led by charter member Virginia Mason Franciscan Health (VMFH), aims to bring together a statewide coalition of health and wellness organizations committed to health equity for all.

With an estimated 170,000 individuals with IDD living in Washington as of 2023, many face significant health risks and systemic inequities due to stigma, exclusion, and limited access to qualified healthcare. These challenges contribute to a life expectancy for individuals with IDD that is fifteen years shorter than that of the general population. The Alliance for Inclusive Health seeks to close this gap through education for healthcare providers and increased accessibility for those with IDD.

The Alliance will unite a diverse group of partner organizations to foster collaboration, elevate the importance of inclusive health practices, and enhance access to health programs. Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, as the first alliance partner, is leading the way by hosting inclusive health trainings for its workforce and providing health screenings for individuals with IDD. VMFH’s efforts also include engaging more partners to address the knowledge gap in treating people with IDD and expanding a referral network to help individuals find trained healthcare professionals.

The referral network will serve as a crucial resource, helping individuals with IDD connect with healthcare providers skilled in inclusive health practices. This free statewide service will cover various healthcare needs, from podiatric care to hearing issues, ensuring dignity and equitable access for all.

Ketul J. Patel, CEO of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health and President of CommonSpirit Health – Northwest Region, emphasized the importance of collaboration:

We are proud to partner with Special Olympics Washington to promote inclusion and champion equity. We encourage other organizations to join the Alliance for Inclusive Health and help us expand our impact. Together, we can make a significant difference.

David Wu, President and CEO of Special Olympics Washington, expressed gratitude for VMFH’s leadership:

We are extremely grateful for Virginia Mason Franciscan Health’s leadership and are proud to welcome them as the first partner in our effort to build a world where individuals with IDD are supported by holistic health initiatives that ensure their dignity and well-being.

Organizations interested in joining the Alliance for Inclusive Health can learn more by visiting AllianceforInclusiveHealth.org. The initiative invites traditional healthcare organizations, insurers, home health leaders, and health-focused brands to support health equity for all.

A special highlight of the event was Kassandra Sandgren, a dedicated Special Olympics athlete from Moses Lake, who represented the new Health Alliance partnership. Kassandra, a member of the Moses Lake Scorpions, showcased her athletic prowess by participating in softball, flag football, basketball, soccer, and track. Over her 4.5 years with Special Olympics, she has also trained as a Health Messenger, advocating for healthcare access for Special Olympians within the community. Kassandra had the honor of throwing the first pitch at a Seattle Mariners game and received the prestigious Golisano Health Leadership Award for her advocacy and dedication.

Kassandra Sandgren throwing out the first pitch at the June 11 Mariners Game.

The Alliance for Inclusive Health marks a significant step towards health equity and inclusive healthcare for individuals with IDD, promoting dignity and well-being for all. Join us in supporting this vital initiative and making a meaningful impact on the lives of many.

To learn more about the Alliance for Inclusive Health, visit AllianceforInclusiveHealth.org.