Photo by JEFF STOKOE/Advocate staff

Photo by JEFF STOKOE/Advocate staff

Alberta giving MS services a boost

The Alberta government is taking steps to improve services for multiple sclerosis patients across the province.

The Alberta government is taking steps to improve services for multiple sclerosis patients across the province.

A new strategy, The Way Forward: Alberta’s Multiple Sclerosis Partnership, was revealed to the public on Nov. 25.

Two days later, Novartis Pharmaceutical Canada Inc. announced it would partner with the province and invest $1.2 million into MS research in Alberta.

Alberta has one of the highest rates of MS in the world with almost 15,000 living with the disease, an immune-mediated disorder of the brain and spinal cord.

A cure has yet to be determined. The Way Forward is a plan to further integrate services to provide for a more co-ordinated system of care when it comes to MS.

This means better service for rural patients, such as those isolated in northern Alberta, said Judy Gordon, who sits on the board of directors for the Alberta division of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.

“We’ve got to make sure all patients have access to services. Sometimes it’s hard for those in certain remote locations to even access a neurologist. These are things we’re looking at with this new plan,” said Gordon, the former mayor of Lacombe and also a former MLA. “We also have to empower patients so they can go on the net and research themselves because there’s a lot of good information out there.”

Gordon was diagnosed with MS in 1998. She was co-chair of the Multiple Sclerosis Society committee that worked on The Way Forward and is currently chair of the government community relations committee.

Gordon said she’s “very, very happy” with the new strategy.

“Many people with MS have to access different sectors within the government. They need to talk about housing and then they need to talk about disability funds, for example. So we’re looking to co-ordinate these kinds of supports across the ministries and different levels of government, like a GPS for patients to find their way through the government for the services they need. The Way Forward is a partnership.”

The strategy will also promote more partnerships “with industry and among MS organizations, the health system and government for optimal research and evaluation,” according to the ministry of health.

MS clinical practice guidelines are already being developed to make sure they are used consistently throughout the province. A patient navigation system and information resources for employers are also currently being established.

“This is the first time a provincial government has partnered with a provincial MS society,” said Health Minister Fred Horne. “We have a lot of MS resources but they’re not connected very well . . . Patients were having to tell their same story over and over.”

Many partners were involved with creating the strategy, including the Red Deer MS clinic and various chapters of the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“The Way Forward is really going to address the inequities in service,” Lorraine Evans-Cross said, regional director of the MS society’s Central Alberta chapter. “We have a good working relationship with our local MS clinic and we’re going to continue to work and enhance that.”

Evans-Cross also mentioned the chapter will be hiring a new community outreach co-ordinator in January.

“This person will be going out into the Central Alberta areas asking people what are the services they’re looking for, what is missing and how we as a society can address those as part of moving forward,” she said.

There has been a community outreach co-ordinator before at the chapter but this time the role will extend out into Drumheller and Wetaskiwin — areas that were not previously covered.

About 340 out of every 100,000 Albertans have been diagnosed with MS compared to the entire country that has around 240 cases for every 100,000 Canadians.

For more information about The Way Forward, visit www.health.alberta.ca/documents/The-Way-Forward-MS-Partnership.pdf.

rfrancoeur@bprda.wpengine.com