Statement by Special Olympics New York President & CEO Stacey Hengsterman on COVID-19 Outbreak in NYC Group Homes

Today’s New York Times story, ‘It’s Hit Our Front Door’: Homes for the Disabled See a Surge of COVID-19, is a horrifying reminder that people with intellectual disabilities are not treated equally.

The notion that residents in group homes – and those who care for them – were not able to make changes to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at a time when the rest of New York City had all but shut down underscores the disparity in care people with intellectual disabilities face. Too many lives have already been lost. Too many others hang in the balance. Hopefully, New York leadership will intervene to help residents and staff who are doing their best to manage the ongoing crisis.

People with ID regularly face health disparities with complex drivers, which are heightened during public health crises like COVID-19. The lack of training given to providers on how to treat people with ID, which is due to medical, dental, and public health curricula not including instruction on caring for this population, leaves providers unprepared to work with patients with ID. New York needs to educate health professionals on how to ensure that they can recognize COVID-19 symptoms in people with ID.

I hope that what is happening in our home state will sound an alarm for other communities where residents and workers in group homes have not yet been impacted. I can only hope our mistakes are not repeated and that our successes can be replicated.

All citizens today are learning what it feels like to be socially distanced, even isolated. It’s a feeling – a terrible one – that people with ID are all too familiar with. And when it spills over into their healthcare as it too often does, the neglect can be deadly. When we come out of this necessary pause, Special Olympics urges New Yorkers and Americans to commit to a new normal, one where all people are genuinely treated equally and included fully in healthcare policy as well as practice.

Thanks to timely guidance from Special Olympics International, Special Olympics New York began canceling group gatherings in New York City and Westchester March 5th. We followed shortly thereafter with a 100% suspension of sports training and competition across the state to eliminate risk of infection for our athletes, coaches and community. Weeks ago, we donated all of our healthcare supplies to group homes in Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs where there was a desperate need for PPEs. We are also educating our athletes on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and working with Special Olympics International as they are providing recommended training to health care professionals on how to treat a patient with ID and advocating for their own health care and we will continue to be a voice for New York’s ID population. Everyone should be doing their part right now.


About Special Olympics New York

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Special Olympics New York is the largest state chapter in the country, serving more than 67,000 athletes across New York with year-round sports training, athletic competition, and health screenings. The organization also partners with more than 220 schools statewide to offer Unified Sports. All Special Olympics New York programs are offered at no cost to athletes, their families or caregivers. For additional information about Special Olympics New York, to learn more about getting involved, or to make a donation, visit www.specialolympicsNY.org.