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St Vincent’s Hospital epicenter of New York City’s AIDS epidemic: Remembered

St. Vincent’s Hospital came into existence in the 1840s as a response to the cholera epidemic, which affected many Irish immigrants.  They would not be cared for in existing hospitals at the time, because it was seen as a disease of those with poor health habits rather than a result of contaminated water,  The Sisters of Charity founded the Hospital in Greenwich Village to care for the Catholic patients, unwelcome in the other hospitals.

During the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s, St Vincent’s located in The Village was at the heart of care for this new epidemic.  In the beginning the disease was referred to as the “Gay Men’s Cancer.”  Kaposi’s Sarcoma was a skin cancer that was affecting the population at an alarming rate.  The professional staff at St. Vincent’s had no problem with caring for any patient who came to the hospital, but the ancillary staff needed much teaching and encouragement to treat these patients as they did anyone else. To a great extent, they were taught by example.

Since the hospital was known to be caring for AIDS patients, it began to lose its private patients who were fearful of becoming exposed to it.  Since the hospital never refused patients who could not pay it plunged into bankruptcy.  No real help came from the state, city, or Department of Health and the church and the hospital were forced to close its doors in 2010.

The hospital born during the time of cholera, died in the time of AIDS.

      – JJC, RN, NP  (of St Vincent’s nursing staff)

Today, across from the former St. Vincent’s Hospital stands the New York City AIDS Memorial, “Light the Fight.”

Editor’s note: Our Community owes a great debt of gratitude to the nurses, like today’s contributor, and the doctors who had the compassion and courage to care for AIDS patients in their greatest hours of need and unimaginable fear.

What’s more, we owe our gratitude to the legions of lesbian volunteers from New York City to San Francisco who stepped up and stepped in, to care for a generation of dying, gay men when many health care professionals failed to.

To all of them,

Thank you for your love and commitment to Our Community.


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