More MS news articles for Sep 2001

Chattanooga, Tenn.-Based Insurer Honored by National Multiple Sclerosis Group

September 15, 2001
Knight Ridder/Tribune

Sep. 14--When Madeline Orr learned she had multiple sclerosis in 1994, she said she never had any reservations about telling her employer.

"I never felt any threat about letting them know that I might need some time off," said Ms. Orr, who works in national accounts marketing for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

The Chattanooga-based company has received one of the highest distinctions given by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, earning the Employer of the Year award for businesses with over 100 workers.

Frances Haman-Prewitt, a spokeswoman for the health insurance firm, said BlueCross tries to accommodate employees, whether it be by providing large computer screens or ergonomic keyboards, orthopedic chairs or adjusting schedules.

"Everybody wins," she said.

Arney Rosenblat, of the 700,000-member National MS Society, said the group tries to encourage companies to be sensitive to people with disabilities and take advantage of their talent.

"Disability and inability are not synonymous," she said.

Jeanne Brice, programs director for the Chattanooga area MS chapter, said BlueCross fits the qualifications for exemplary employers.

"They provide flex time, accommodations. They abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act," she said.

Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic disease of the central nervous system and mostly diagnosed in adults 20 to 40 years old. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in limbs, or severe, including paralysis or loss of vision.

Another BlueCross employee, Stacy Tate, 33, said she has so-called silent symptoms which people don't see. While she hasn't had to ask the company for accommodations since diagnosed with MS seven years ago, Ms. Tate said the insurer has policies and an environment in place that would help her.

"In my department, when someone hurt their ankle, they had the parking spot moved" closer to the work place, she said.

Ms. Orr, 38, said she, too, asked the company to provide parking that is more convenient. In terms of other accommodations, " I know it's there if I need it," she said.

Ms. Brice of the local MS chapter, which covers 20 counties in Tennessee and Georgia, said people with the disorder are "very employable."

"Many you would look at them and not know anything was wrong. They can be profoundly effective," she said.

BlueCross, which shared the award with a Pittsburgh company, Highmark Inc., is to receive a plaque from the national MS group.

The National MS Society reports that just 35 percent of people with the condition are employed, which officials believe is too few. The group said accommodations for workers are rarely complicated or expensive, and new drugs and technology can help keep people on the job.

"They don't have a disabled personality," said Ms. Brice.

Welch Fluorocarbon of Dover, N.H., received the under-100 employee award.

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(c) 2001, Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News