September 23, 2011
Nearly 20 years after HIV diagnoses peaked in New York City, the West Village neighborhood is home to many people aging with the disease, according to the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY). Of New Yorkers living with HIV, 75 percent are age 40 or older, the age group that also accounted for nearly 42 percent of new diagnoses in 2009, the city health department says.
"A significant number of people with HIV, because of antiretroviral drugs, are aging with the disease," said Andresa Persons, VNSNY's director of AIDS services. Founded in 1893, VNSNY was the city's first care provider for people with HIV/AIDS, Persons said. Today the group treats 235 HIV/AIDS patients citywide, involving nurses, social workers, nutritionists, and home health aides.
Early during the epidemic, "People wanted to stay away from people with this illness because so much was unknown," said Arthur Fitting, a nurse who has worked with HIV/AIDS patients in the neighborhood for more than 25 years.
Over the last 10 years, changes in the West Village and Greenwich Village have complicated patients' care, Fitting said. "With the influx of higher-cost real estate, the elderly people in the Village have had to find other housing," he said. The closing of St. Vincent's hospital also affected seniors with HIV/AIDS, he said.
"Even a change in physicians, much less the disappearance of a whole facility, has a big impact on their care," Fitting said. "It doesn't take much to rock the boat for this population."
A "community effort" of social organizations and churches was instrumental for patient support in the 1980s and '90s, Fitting said. "That community effort is not as visible today, but it still exists," he said.