Closing The Gap: A National Blueprint to Improve the Health of Persons with Mental Retardation
Report of the Surgeon General's Conference on Health Disparities and 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.
—Tommy G. Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services,
Introduction to the Surgeon General's Report
From December 5–6, 2001, the Surgeon General of the United States sponsored a conference to address health disparities, both physical and mental, in persons with intellectual disability. The Surgeon General's conference followed a national Listening Session that was held on October 10, 2001. At that time, over 8,500 comments and suggestions were made that were utilized in planning the conference. Because persons with intellectual disability have been reported to have poorer health, less access to screening for health problems, and disparities in diagnosis and treatment, the meeting was called to better understand their needs and to face unmet needs. As a result of cognitive and language impairment, individuals with intellectual disability may have difficulty describing their health needs; critically, they must be empowered to participate in their treatment to improve their health. Families need guidance in finding the means and the emotional and financial support to carry through with treatments. The needs are broad and include basic screening and corrective treatment for vision, hearing, and oral health problems as well as diagnosis and treatment for both physical and mental illnesses.
Planning health care services, conducting appropriate research, finding sufficient resources, and monitoring physical and mental health care throughout the lifetime are major challenges for policy makers.
At the conference, important issues in physical and mental health were identified, and action steps were proposed to address them. Subsequently, plenary session presentations by experts in the field provided background information on what is currently known on the topics that were addressed. Eight conference work groups identified priority issues from those proposed during the planning process. Topics considered by the work groups included: (1) provider attitudes; (2) health care financing; (3) appropriateness of services throughout the lifetime; and (4) research needs and health promotion. Action steps and strategies were