Secretary of Health and Human Services
Good health is essential to quality of life, and the health and well-being of its people are essential to the strength of the Nation. At a recent White House dinner honoring the Special Olympics, President Bush eloquently stated that “America at its best upholds the value of every person and the possibilities of every life.” He went on to say that “the story of our country is an ever-widening circle, a society in which everyone has a place and everyone has something to give.”
Yet there is a segment of our population that too often is left behind as we work to achieve better health for our citizens. Americans with mental retardation, and their families, face enormous obstacles in seeking the kind of basic health care that many of us take for granted. Unfortunately, societal misunderstanding of mental retardation, even by many health care providers, contributes to the terrible burden. Too few providers receive adequate training in treating persons with mental retardation. Even providers with appropriate training find our current service system offers few incentives to ensure appropriate health care for children and adults with special needs. American health research, the finest in the world, has too often bypassed health and health services research questions of prime importance to persons with mental retardation.
Individuals with mental retardation are more likely to receive inappropriate and inadequate treatment, or be denied health care altogether. Children, youth, and adults with mental retardation receive fewer routine health examinations, fewer immunizations, less mental health care, less prophylactic oral health care, and fewer opportunities for physical exercise and athletic achievement than do other Americans. Those with communication difficulties are especially at greater risk for poor nutrition, overmedication, injury, and abuse.
In issuing this Blueprint for improving the health of those with mental retardation, the Surgeon General has drawn the attention of the Nation to the longstanding health disparities experienced by a group of Americans who deserve our full attention and support in their efforts to get the health care they need. By identifying these needs and outlining concrete action steps for addressing them, this community has created an unprecedented opportunity to narrow the gap between the health needs and health services for this special group. The Surgeon General’s national Blueprint, which complements the suggestions contained in the President’s New Freedom Initiative, takes the essential first steps needed to bring together self-advocates with mental retardation and their families with the scientists, health care providers, professional training institutions, advocacy organizations, and policymakers who can make a difference in the lives of individuals with mental retardation.
Our national commitment to the health of every American is demonstrated most clearly in efforts to reach those whose circumstances in life are most difficult. In this important new report, the Surgeon General articulates how the health of people with mental retardation can be significantly strengthened in the years ahead.