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Nursing in NYC During the AIDS Crisis

Arthur F. shares what it was like working as an infusion nurse with VNSNY in the early days of the AIDS crisis:

“NYC was the center of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. There were an enormous number of cases, more than anywhere else in the country. At first, it was very anxiety-producing. There was so much uncertainty.

“As a community health nurse, you see things first. The recent Ebola situation sounded so familiar to me—you have people showing up in the community who are very sick, there’s strong contagion, and in the beginning no one is quite sure what’s going. The question becomes, ‘how is this going to be treated?’ Back then, we were getting these very sick people who required a tremendous amount of time and care, but we really didn’t know what we were dealing with or how to treat it. In addition to seeing so many very complex medical cases, we also had to educate people that had contact with patients, like pharmacy delivery people and landlords or supers. For a few years, it was like a combat zone.

“VNSNY was a huge part of the fight. The agency helped to create some major, major changes with the healthcare support systems at the time by working with Medicaid, the Department of Health, and different vendors to provide the supports required to keep patients at home—basically, creating a whole new system to care for this population at home. That’s when things started to stabilize.

“We were also the only agency with a program that provided support and guidelines for patients and nurses. It was called AIDS Project, and we could utilize this group to help map out what we needed to do to get physical, emotional, and educational supports. The AIDS Project enabled more support and allowed for more home health aide hours, more nursing visits.

“You hear about VNSNY on the front lines 24/7 and about the history and the different public health programs. This was my first experience as part of an organization that provided such a high level of care at such a crucial time. It was amazing and it made me very proud to be part of it.”

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