Ever wonder what happens when an Olympic athlete gets the flu? Sprains an ankle? Meet the Polyclinic.


On January 29, the busiest health-care facility in the state will open on the ground floor of the University of Utah’s Guest House—and 50 days later it will close, never to be heard from again.

Such is the life span of an Olympic Polyclinic. A 24-hour-a-day operation located deep within the Olympic Village, the Polyclinic keeps athletes, coaches, and other members of the Olympic Family healthy during their moment in the world’s spotlight. Rarely mentioned in news reports about the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games, the Polyclinic operates out of the limelight. “It’s the busiest Olympic venue you’ve never heard of,” jokes Mark R. Elstad, M.D., Polyclinic medical director and associate professor of internal medicine at the University’s medical school. “The outside world doesn’t see the Polyclinic; it’s purely an Olympic service,” he notes.

As part of a 1998 agreement with Intermountain Health Care (IHC), the University will manage all Games-related health care for venues on campus. In addition to the Polyclinic, the University will staff and equip first-aid stations in Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium during Opening and Closing Ceremonies, as well as a smaller first-aid station inside the Olympic Village. University Hospital will provide more specialized inpatient care and diagnostic services needed by any member of the Olympic Family (a group that includes members of the International Olympic Committee, the International Federation of Sports, and national Olympic committees; athletes; and delegations from designated Games locations, as well as cities currently bidding to host future Games).

The University’s involvement in the Polyclinic marks an Olympic milestone, as Salt Lake City’s Polyclinic will be the first in Olympic history to be managed by a major academic medical center.

“The Polyclinic will essentially be run as an extension of University Hospital,” says William Holt BS’88 MPA’93, a University Hospital administrator who will oversee all University medical services for the Games. “All of the resources of the hospital, including medical imaging and the expertise of the University’s 800 medical school faculty members, will be available to the 3,500 athletes and coaches who will live in the Olympic Village.”

The clinic itself will feature a full pharmacy, digital radiology equipment (including MRI), and a clinical laboratory. In addition, more than 450 health-care workers from the University and the community will staff primary care, sports medicine, physical therapy, podiatry, dental, vision, psychiatry, gynecology, and otolaryngology exam and treatment areas in the clinic. The clinic will be supplied with more than $1 million worth of donated medical equipment.

The Polyclinic will provide the same services during the Paralympic Winter Games as during the Olympic Winter Games, but on a smaller scale. One additional service will be provided by the European-based company Otto Bock, which will assist athletes in the repair and maintenance of various orthotic and prosthetic devices and wheelchairs.

According to Holt, the Salt Lake Polyclinic will be the most technologically advanced in Olympic history. “We’ll be using software that records every health-care encounter in the Olympic Village and at Olympic venues. Combining this information with data collected across the state by the Department of Health, we’ll be able to track and monitor any out-break of disease during the Games. The technology also will allow us to track supplies and pharmacy orders at the Polyclinic, something that’s never been done before,” he adds.

Tracking potential disease outbreaks is essential, says Elstad, because the 2002 Games will be held during the height of Utah’s flu season. “Our biggest challenge is to make sure that nothing gets in the way of an athlete’s competing at his or her highest level. The Olympics are unique in that there aren’t many situations in which a single sporting event makes or breaks a person, where one race is the difference between success or failure,” he points out.

Elstad predicts the majority of visits to the Polyclinic will be athletes seeking physical therapy, orthopedics, and primary care for complaints such as colds, sore throats, and diarrhea. “Most of the larger teams, like the United States, bring along their own medical personnel,” he says. “So our role in the Polyclinic often becomes one of supporting team physicians by providing specific tests or specialty consultation.”

Holt, Elstad, and colleague Stuart E. Willick, M.D., assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and co-medical director, have become Olympic veterans of sorts, having spent time as observers at both the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano and the 2000 Olympic Summer Games in Sydney. Holt became so familiar with the Sydney Polyclinic that the director asked him to lead tours of the facility for visiting dignitaries.

“Sydney set a new standard with their Polyclinic,” admits Elstad, “but I’m confident we’re up to the challenge. This is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to showcase the skills of our people and programs to the international community—and we’ll be ready.”

—Christopher Nelson BS’96, who wrote about University Hospital in the Spring 2001 Continuum, is public relations officer for the John A. Moran Eye Center.