EDMONTON – Alberta has one of the highest rates of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in the world. On Monday, the government introduced a plan to better coordinate resources and treatment for patients across the province.
“We have a very high incidence of Multiple Sclerosis in our province,” said Health Minister Fred Horne. “Thankfully, people who are living with MS have access to a lot of resources in Alberta. But the motivation for this work was to look at how well those resources are actually coordinated.”
The Way Forward: Alberta’s Multiple Sclerosis Partnership outlines a model for better use of health professionals and resources, and stronger co-operation between the health system, government, MS and community agencies.
(Read the full strategy below).
“Basically, it’s similar to having a GPS where they can find their way through the various ministries for the services they need,” said Judy Gordon, Chairperson for the MS Society’s Government Relations Committee.
The minister added that “it will help coordinate services; it will ensure that people with MS see a more consistent level of service across the province, that they’re connected with resources including navigation services.”
Additional funds are not being allocated to the strategy. Horne says it will require using current resources in a more efficient manner.
“Finding those services and connecting with them and getting all the people on your team – for someone who’s living with MS – to work together, should not be the responsibility of the patient or their family to have to bear. It’s very much something we can do by simply coordinating resources better.”
The strategy will include integration of services, coordination of disability supports across sectors, an education and awareness campaign, and more MS research.
“We will have some news very soon in Alberta about some success in that vein,” said Horne.
“It would be nice to know what causes MS, but it certainly would be nice to know what could cure MS,” added Gordon.
She said the strategy will be especially helpful for patients living in rural Alberta.
“Sometimes it’s very difficult for them to access services such as needed neurologists.”
Julia Nimilowich agrees.
“Anything from support groups to neurological clinics to having to travel barriers, travelling into the major cities. I think going forward, this document and the relationship with the province and the MS society is just going to really streamline being able to access those.”
Nimilowich is Chair of the Capital Region Board of Directors for the MS Society.
“For myself, and the other 14,000 people living with MS in Alberta, it’s truly a promise that we are not here alone, we’re not going through our MS alone.”
Twenty-four year-old Patrycia Rzechowka was diagnosed with MS in Jan. 2012.
The disease – which causes inflammation that damages nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord – has not stopped her from living an active life. However, she worries it may have pushed some opportunities out of reach.
“Potential employers don’t know you as a person; they know you – in this case – by two letters. And, if they don’t have an understanding of what it means, you don’t really get a fair shot.”
She hopes an official provincial strategy that includes developing MS information packages for employers will make everyday challenges a little easier for those living with the disease.
“Maybe they would be less scared, and they would know that, ‘yeah, I have MS but it’s not a big deal.’”