With the recent closure of the MS Society Centre in Victoria, locals living with multiple-sclerosis have taken matters into their own hands and hope to open a centre of their own.
Members of the MS community recently formed the Vancouver Island MS Wellness Centre, a non-profit organization, after learning the MS Society of Canada planned on downsizing its clinic in the North Park neighbourhood in October.
The branch had been open for years and offered people with MS a place to socialize, attend physiotherapy and use the specialized gym. However, that was cut short when the clinic closed abruptly a week before Christmas due to “unforeseen circumstances,” according to an e-letter sent out to society members.
In a previous interview with the Victoria News, Tania Vrionis, president of the B.C. and Yukon division of the society, said the decision to sell the roughly 14,700-square-foot building was to help minimize costs which will be redirected to fund research programs.
But the closure left many scrambling to find other physiotherapy appointments. Some had even planned a thank you party for the clinic’s staff.
“It’s a week before Christmas, this is the last time you’re going to see a lot of your friends, you’ve arranged for parties to thank the staff. It’s your last physiotherapy session, the last time you can use the art room and that too is taken from you,” said James Bay resident Susan Simmons, who has MS and called the closure traumatic.
“It’s a lot to somebody with MS to stand up and fight for themselves. Getting out of bed can even be a battle for those who use the centre . . . We don’t want this to ever happen again.”
Up until the sudden closure of the clinic, the idea to open a new centre had only been an emergency plan. However, in the last few weeks, members have been working hard to get the organization off the ground, holding meetings at the Yakimovich Wellness Centre and forming a board of directors with roughly five to six people, many of whom have the autoimmune disease that causes extreme fatigue, lack of coordination and weakness.
The board hopes to open a new MS centre, which will offer physiotherapy, a gym and a place to hold meetings to learn about alternative therapies to manage the disease.
A petition has also been started to save the existing centre and equipment, and has garnered more than 670 signatures. But in the meantime, Simmons and other board members are on the hunt to find a roughly 2,000 square foot space and raise enough money to open a new centre in the next few years — one they can call their own.
“Ultimately, that’s what we would like, is to have our own space that we don’t have to feel threatened will be taken away from us,” Simmons said, adding a number of people from other cities have contacted her about opening their own MS centres.
“In the interim, we can’t come up with a few million dollars in a week, it will take us a few years to get where we want to go.”
There are roughly 2,000 people living with MS on Vancouver Island.