Canada’s largest clinic caring for people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is celebrating the grand opening of the BARLO MS Centre, ushering in a new era of patient care and research at St. Michael’s Hospital. 

The centre, which occupies the top two floors of the hospital’s new 17-story Peter Gilgan Patient Care Tower, is a 30,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility designed to offer coordinated care for patients living with MS, an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system.

People living with MS can now see a dedicated healthcare team in one location, including neurologists, nurses, social workers, neuropsychologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists, neurospychiatrists, and physiatrists. During their visit, they will be surrounded by art, soaring views and spectacular architecture, meant to both enhance the patient experience and make sure that their stay is accessible and customized to their needs. 

“Since opening in 1982, St. Michael’s MS clinic has always addressed its patients’ social and psychological needs, as well as medical needs. Now, with our new BARLO MS Centre, we’re thrilled that we can match the quality of our space to our expertise,” said Dr. Tim Rutledge, President and CEO of Unity Health Toronto.

Canada has one of the world’s highest rates of MS and the reason is not well understood. MS affects two to three times as many women as men and generally strikes people in their early 30s. While there are treatments, there is currently no cure.

At the BARLO MS Centre, researchers will use laboratory and imaging techniques and epidemiological methods to understand how various biological and environmental factors contribute to MS disease onset and disease course.

The centre is led by Dr. Jiwon Oh, who is among the few clinician-scientists in the world using multiple advanced imaging techniques in the spinal cord and brain to help predict who will and who won’t develop MS, even before symptoms appear.

“The BARLO MS Centre will bring together the best of clinical care and research in one setting,” she said. “Designed with patient-centered goals in mind, the centre will enable a free exchange of ideas between research learnings and clinical practice to help people living with MS achieve better outcomes.”

The BARLO MS Centre is named to honour the two families who donated $20 million to make it possible: John and Jocelyn Barford, and Jon and Nancy Love. More than 400 generous donors contributed to St. Michael’s Foundation’s $42-million fundraising campaign.

“Thanks to our fierce community of donors, volunteers, hospital partners and patients, and the vision and leadership of the Barford and Love Families, we are thrilled with the opening of the BARLO MS Centre – a transformational milestone, not only for St. Michael’s, but for the world. With the support of more than 400 donors, we have raised 100 per cent of our $42 million fundraising goal, making this new landmark in MS care possible” said Lili Litwin, President of St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation.

Patients will have access to unique facilities tailored to their needs, including a customized gymnasium for physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

In the Activities of Daily Living Lab, patients will learn how to modify their homes, and how to create the supports they need to manage in their daily lives.

The centre also has dedicated high-tech lecture spaces for teams to discuss cases, learn new strategies and treatment techniques, and teach the next generation of specialists.

Each year, St. Michael’s sees 7,500 people living with MS. They include Ardra Shephard, an advocate for those living with MS.

“What’s so special about the BARLO MS Centre is that the clinic recognizes that, while medication is a key component of treating MS, there are many additional ways that people with MS need support. To have holistic care, all in one location with a team that communicates internally feels like an exciting new approach to living well with MS.”

By: Jennifer Stranges and Hayley Mick