The MS Society of Canada is offering resources and relief to those impacted by multiple sclerosis though the MS Knowledge Network – a virtual information service whereby those afflicted with the disease can seek support in navigating local health and community services.
The program, led by volunteers who are also affected by MS, was launched in 2016 and has since received 23,000 calls from 14,000 people, according to Valerie Borggard, MS navigator with the MS Society of Canada.
She said the program is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as individuals who live in rural communities – who already may not have access to support – are further isolated.
“Google provides a wealth of information, but it’s not always 100 per cent accurate or true,” she said. “We’ve been able to provide that reliable, consistent information about resources, and managing symptoms.
“We provide that support, information, but also learning – helping people to learn what kind of community resources may be out there.”
Borggard added the help line, email, and live chat feature on the MS Society of Canada’s website have seen an increase in calls since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring of 2020.
“From that isolation, we’ve seen an increase in calls, but also the number of people who have questions about things like, ‘Is it safe to have vaccines?’ ‘When are they coming?’ and it’s working to make sure that we’ve got the information here for them,” she said.
She said the Knowledge Network also provides a listening ear for those who are seeking support in general, adding that live agents respond to each inquiry for a personal touch.
“When a person contacts us, whether that’s by phone or live chat, we get a lot of people who are like, ‘Are you real or are you a bot online?’, and we tell them that you got a real person here,” she said. “We’re definitely here for people affected by MS.”
The network helps to connect those who call the service with other in-person services such as peer support, volunteer wellness programs, and other programs offered through the MS Society of Canada, as well as home and community care.
“Sometimes we’ll get that crisis call – people have been isolated or their disease course is changing, becoming really challenging, and they don’t know what to do,” she said. “And they really just need that person on the other end of the line to be able to listen and to provide them with what they need at that time.”
She added the network also supports those who are connected to someone with MS, such as an individual’s family member, their friend, or their caregivers, as well as volunteers with the MS Society who are looking for support, or need additional information.
According to Borggard, the service also sees a lot of calls from health-care professionals and providers, including doctor’s offices, nurse, pharmacists, occupational therapists, and physiotherapists.
“Over and above those specific groups, we get a lot of calls from students who are doing a school project where they need more information or they can’t find specific information,” she said. “Employers, too, want to know how they can support their employees living with [MS].”
MS Navigators are available to assist those who need help across the nation in English or French from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. MT, Monday to Friday. Those interested in getting in touch are encouraged to phone 1-844-859-6789, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or by live web chat at mssociety.ca
Follow me on Twitter @carmenrcundy