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An Update on the MS Center’s Rural Engagement Program

The Rural Engagement Program (REP) at the MS Center aims to increase access to support resources for people impacted by MS living throughout rural Colorado. In addition, the rural engagement program collaborates with local care providers to increase awareness of free supportive services and on-demand educational resources available to community health workers. The Rural Engagement Program is going very well and is receiving glowing reviews of the resources that have been developed. 

Key components of the REP include our MS Community Forums and Direct Support Services, both aimed at audiences that aren’t easily able to travel to the MS Center’s various events in and around Denver and other urban centers.

MS Community Forums are full-day events held in rural areas that bring together community members living with MS and our team of MS Centers of educators to increase access to MS educational resources and direct support services. Direct Support Services include free mental health counseling, online adaptive exercise classes, and health and wellness coaching sessions. To date, we have conducted successful MS Community Forums in Otero & Pueblo Counties; Chaffee County; Mesa County; La Plata County; and will be hosting our final community forum in Grand County this August. We have had overwhelmingly positive responses from event evaluations following each community forum, representing 100% event satisfaction when asked if participants found the forums helpful.

These events not only provide excellent educational content, but provide an invaluable space for patients and families to connect with one another and share common experiences. Community events also give us the opportunity to learn directly about the particular experience of being impacted by MS in the rural setting.

To increase patient and provider awareness of our free direct support services we have engaged with 233 rural healthcare providers throughout Colorado to deliver information on not only our free direct support services, but the additional on-demand clinical support and MS educational content specifically designed for providers.

We have also held several successful follow-up sessions with our rural community members, including a Q & A Virtual Town Hall Session with Dr. Anna Shah for Chaffee County patients and families; an MS Research Updates Session with Dr. Enrique Alvarez for Otero & Pueblo County patients and families; a Caregiver Support Group Session with Elissa Berlinger, a licensed clinical social worker and MS-specialized counselor; an in-person adaptive exercise class in Buena Vista with physical therapist Michele Harrison; and a Social Security Disability Insurance Navigation educational session with our legal advocate Tom Stewart, PA-C, MS, JD.

In addition, our Community Outreach manager, Sophie Semenjuk, has conducted numerous informal follow-up connections and coffee get-togethers with community members and local care providers to learn more about how the rural engagement program can adapt to fit their unique needs.

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