Cardinal Innovations Healthcare to Partner with Special Olympics North Carolina in Response to Pandemic for People with Intellectual Disabilities

Special Olympics North Carolina — February 08, 2021
Special Olympics North Carolina will receive a community reinvestment grant from Cardinal Innovations Healthcare in support of the sports training, fitness, and wellness programming being implemented to keep people with intellectual disabilities active and engaged during the pandemic, according to Keith L. Fishburne, SONC president and CEO.
“We appreciate the expression of confidence in our work that Cardinal Innovations Healthcare is providing during this critical time,” said Fishburne. “Many Special Olympics athletes are at a higher health risk during the pandemic and in great need of programming and social connections that encourage healthy living leading to positive health outcomes for people with intellectual disabilities.”
Special Olympics North Carolina’s COVID response includes a Partner Up Power Up program and Winter Challenge Series that will provide pathways to participation in the context of COVID-19, preserving the ability for people with intellectual disabilities to engage in the physical activity, sports, and social connections foundational to the Special Olympics mission. The project includes seasonal, at-home and virtual fitness, sport and health programming, which will encourage healthy, active living, even amid limitations precipitated by COVID-19.
“This grant is part of Cardinal Innovations’ strong commitment to working with our partners to support the health and wellness of individuals we proudly serve across North Carolina,” said Trey Sutten, CEO of Cardinal Innovations Healthcare. “As the pandemic continues, isolation poses a serious challenge to individuals with intellectual disabilities. That’s why we are excited to partner with Special Olympics to grow opportunities for athletes to strengthen their bodies, develop their skills, and improve their mental health and quality of life.”
The Partner Up Power Up virtual and at-home program, which began in the fall of 2020 for 5,000 participants,  will be the primary focus for athlete participation through spring 2021, complemented with additional virtual health and fitness challenges that encourage athletes in a regimen of physical activity impacting positive health outcomes. Special Olympics will continue to partner with schools, group homes, and parks & recreation departments to coordinate participation in this initiative, which is structured in a way that it offers consistency regardless of school and agency reopening scenarios that remain varied and in flux across the state.
Students involved with the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools initiative, and volunteers in the community will continue to be engaged with the program, which reinforces an important message that health and fitness are for everyone and should be inclusive endeavors. Further, the inclusive aspect promotes greater understanding of people with intellectual disabilities, and improved socialization for Special Olympics athletes. Weekly virtual fitness training will be led by Special Olympics health partners, and sport-specific training will be led by Special Olympics coaches. In addition to virtual programming, Partner Up Power Up teams may choose to meet in person for training if they are comfortable doing so, and adhere to safety guidelines. Health professionals will lead weekly wellness sessions focused on topics such as stress management, relaxation, nutrition, and dental health education.
Taking place multiple times per week using the Zoom platform, the Partner Up Power Up program is supplemented with a fitness guide so that athletes may participate in fitness training both independently and with their designated virtual teams. The guide includes exercise instruction, wellness tips, a weekly fitness plan, and a progress tracker that keeps athletes accountable to wellness activity. For example, Mindfulness Mondays offer yoga classes and strategies for maintaining mental health; Training Tuesdays include live fitness instruction; Wellness Wednesdays focus on health education across multiple disciplines; Training Thursdays allow athletes to choose between a general fitness training session, or a sport-specific session with their designated sport team; Free Fridays are outlined as days to stretch, rest, and refresh; Strength Saturdays encourage athletes to complete strength-building exercises such as squats and pushups; and Endurance Sundays encourage athletes to get out and get moving in an activity of their choice such as walking, running or biking.
Athletes surveyed in 2020 noted that through their experience with the Partner Up Power Up program, they learned about eating healthy (59%), and about making healthy life choices such as staying active (68%).  Regarding the impact of the Partner Up Power Up program on their physical health, 81% of surveyed athletes noted some aspect of improvement as follows (athletes were allowed to select multiple areas of improvement):
65% increased their physical activity
48% increased their endurance
43% improved their flexibility and strength
31% lost weight
Responding to questions about social connection, confidence and happiness as a result of their participation, 64% of respondents noted increased confidence, 52% noted increased happiness, and 60% said they felt more connected with others during the program.
About Special Olympics North Carolina
Since 1968, the organization has used the transformative power of sports to improve the lives of children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Nearly 40,000 athletes in North Carolina inspire thousands of coaches, sports officials, local program committee members and event organizers involved in Special Olympics statewide. SONC offers year-round training and competition in 20 Olympic-type sports on local and state levels as well as health and wellness initiatives to improve the health status and increase access to community health resources for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Youth become agents of change through Unified Champion Schools, an education and sports-based program created by Special Olympics to build an inclusive environment among youth with and without intellectual disabilities as well as empower them to become youth leaders and create change in their community. Visit Special Olympics North Carolina at Engage with us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.
About Cardinal Innovations Healthcare
Cardinal Innovations Healthcare is a specialized health plan and care coordinator for Medicaid recipients and the under- and uninsured in North Carolina with complex behavioral and special needs. Cardinal Innovations connects people with treatment and support for mental health, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and substance use disorders through a network of providers in their communities. The organization serves this important role in 20 counties. In 2020, Cardinal Innovations administered nearly $850 million for the care of 825,000 people in the region and invested more than $50 million to improve support systems and to respond to the pandemic. Cardinal Innovations also works with local governments to address public health concerns such as homelessness, suicide prevention, child welfare and domestic violence through education, engagement and outreach.

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