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U. S. healthcare fails people with mental retardation, says report
Note to readers: links to news articles may not work after a few weeks, as news media remove current stories to their archives. The link may take you to the archives section, where, for a fee, you can view the article.

Feb. 19, 2002 -- The U.S. healthcare system has "failed to respond to changes in the lives of people with mental retardation," says a report released Feb. 11 by U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, saying that as attention to people with mental retardation increased, health care did not. It was Satcher's last official act as Surgeon General.

The report, an overview of "how American healthcare fails the nation's 7 million people with mental retardation," notes that people with mental retardation received inferior care in the nation's residential institutions, with surgery denied and dental care consisting of "pulling out all the teeth." A 1995 discovery by Special Olympics officials that nearly 20 percent of the athletes competing in that year's Games were in such poor health that "they needed immediate medical care," as Special Olympics' Timothy P. Shriver told NPR's Joseph Shapiro, led to the Surgeon General's report.

As people with retardation have " moved from residential institutions into family and community living settings, the nation's healthcare system has not kept pace" said Satcher. Shriver calls it a result of "low expectations." People with mental retardation "are seen as less important than others." For an overview of the report, go to

A five-minute report from NPR's Joseph Shapiro can be downloaded as an audio file by going to and entering "Joseph Shapiro" in the search box.

The report, "Closing the Gap: A National Blueprint to Improve the Health of Persons with Mental Retardation," is the result of a national conference held in Washington, D.C., in December. A webcast of the conference is archived at the National Institutes of Health. To view the webcast, visit the Past Events page at NIH Videocasting and search for "mental retardation".

The "Closing the Gap" report is available online at The document is available online only in Adobe Acrobat PDF format; the file size is 1.2 megabytes. Readers of this E-Letter can complain to the Office of Surgeon General regarding the inacessibility of this report by emailing the webmaster of the Surgeon General's website (you may want to remind them of obligations under Section 508) at -- on their webpage at they note that Sec 508 applies only to new material; but you may wish to point out to them that this file was put online in Feb. 2002, and thus constitutes "new material."

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