The AIDS Crisis: Our Contribution to Patient Care and HIV/AIDS Protocols in the 1980s-90s

An Unknown Disease with Unknown Treatments

What was it like to provide hospice care to patients in the 1980s–90s who were dying from an unknown disease with no known treatments?

Tenured VITAS employees who worked on dedicated AIDS patient-care teams in South Florida remember their experiences as challenging, heart-breaking, heart-warming and immensely satisfying in ways that still give them pause.

The Only Hospice in Miami to Care for HIV/AIDS Patients

“We were the only hospice in Miami to take on these patients—specialized teams that did nothing but care for AIDS patients,” recalls Nancy Auster, RN and admissions nurse. She worked on teams that cared for patients wherever they lived—homes, in their cars, on the streets, under highway overpasses—to make sure they received compassionate care.

From 1980–2000, AIDS killed 450,000 Americans. By the mid-1990s, antiretroviral treatments had redefined HIV/AIDS as a chronic but treatable disease.

VITAS Took HIV/AIDS Care to the Streets

VITAS has enjoyed many milestones in our 40-year history as a hospice provider. We are particularly proud of the care we provided and the impact we made on the AIDS/HIV epidemic.

“A lot of people with HIV/AIDS were living on the street at the time because other places wouldn’t allow them to live there,” recalls Peggy Pettit, then a nurse and AIDS team manager and now a VITAS executive vice president. She recalls the fear, stigma and rejection that many AIDS patients faced from their friends, families and even other healthcare practitioners.

Then-chaplain Bob Miller, now a VITAS executive vice president and chief compliance officer, describes the teams’ dedication to caring for patients wherever they called home.

“We’d meet them under a bridge at a certain time of the day,” Miller says. “The whole team—the aide, the chaplain, the social worker—we’d make our appointment time to meet the patient where the patient was.”