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St. Vincent's: Ground Zero for the AIDS Epidemic

St. Vincent's: Ground Zero for the AIDS Epidemic

New York magazine contributing editor David France delivers an appreciation of St. Vincent's Hospital, a Catholic institution that served as the epicenter of response to the AIDS epidemic in Manhattan in the 1980s. The hospital, deep in debt, will close its doors by the end of the month.

With the help of activists who share difficult memories, France recalls the years when scenes at the hospital resembled the front lines of a war.

"For anyone familiar with those rooms and those days, news of St. Vincent's demise has been hard to accept," he writes. "There is no true standing memorial to HIV victims, even though there were more from New York by 1995 than U.S. deaths in the Vietnam War. So the bland sarcophagus along Seventh Avenue holds that place in the geography of our plague memory; it is a museum, almost, a place haunted by Whitman's 'carols of Death.' We see the ghosts as we pass there even now, we hear their voices, their last words, we remember their weight in our arms, the way they vanished from those rooms."

While the encounter initially proved difficult for gay patients and the Catholic hospital at odds with each other, St. Vincent's adjusted as AIDS started to account for the majority of admissions. Improvements in treatment, in fact, have prompted the hospital's financial decline, according to France.

"The success of AIDS medications brought a drop in hospitalizations and contributed to the long slide to today's financial emergency," he writes. "It's $700 million in debt and losing $10 million a month."
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