Before We Even Knew What It Was . . .

Posted on

Nov 04, 2018

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Before AIDS was an officially recognized disease, before HIV was identified as the virus that caused it, and before any healthcare professional understood how HIV/AIDS spread from person to person, VITAS nurses and doctors in the early 1980s and 1990s were on the front line of care for patients who exhibited a variety of unexplained, unpredictable and invariably fatal symptoms.
During VITAS 40th anniversary year and with World AIDS Day commemorated on December 1, VITAS reflects on the early days of the AIDS crisis. While patients often struggled with fear, confusion and rejection at that time, healthcare workers provided care to patients suffering from symptoms and diagnoses doctors had rarely encountered.

Because the AIDS/HIV crisis and the American hospice movement evolved in the same decade, VITAS played a key role in developing real-time care standards for HIV/AIDS, supported by field nurses, admissions nurses, medical directors and clinical staff who documented processes and protocols from the field. Many of those standards still govern day-to-day AIDS/HIV care at VITAS today.

VITAS networked, advocated to understand AIDS
Between 1981 and 2000, nearly 450,000 Americans died from HIV/AIDS. Today, it is considered a treatable but long-term, chronic disease, thanks to anti-viral drugs that began appearing in 1996.

VITAS navigated the world of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s by:

Providing care where it was needed: in hospitals, nursing homes, medical clinics, jails, prisons, private homes, even visiting patients who were living under bridges, on the beach or in cars.


Understanding the gay culture: VITAS hired LGBTQ staff who understood the gay community and became involved in supportive organizations and movements.


Contributing expertise to the national database about AIDS/HIV: VITAS care teams played a role in drafting national standards of care covering symptom management, pain relief, hospice eligibility for end-stage AIDS and more.
Addressing the stigma and fear attached to AIDS/HIV: VITAS team members often served as quasi-family members for many of their patients, especially those who had been rejected by their families.

Article writtenBy Cathy Carlson, general manager for VITAS Healthcare

Find out how VITAS cares for HIV/AIDS patients and their families today at VITAS.com. For more information about hospice or end-of-life care options, call VITAS Healthcare at 866.759.6695.

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