Group Calls for AIDS Unit at County Hospital

Times Staff Writer

For the last five years, San Francisco General Hospital has gained recognition for operating one of the first AIDS wards at a county medical facility in the nation. In Los Angeles County, which has surpassed San Francisco in the number of AIDS cases, by contrast, officials have resisted establishing a separate ward for AIDS patients, despite pressure from some quarters.

But this month, a task force created by the county’s Commission on AIDS is reevaluating the possibility of establishing an AIDS ward at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, which treats more AIDS patients than any of the county’s six hospitals. The debate over the creation of a separate ward centers on whether it would boost the spirits of AIDS patients or increase their isolation.

John Fall, spokesman for an AIDS patient advocacy group, gives little credence to the county’s position that AIDS patients receive adequate treatment in hospital wards that suit the primary symptoms of the viral disease, such as in respiratory or cancer wards.


‘Minimize Their Isolation’

“When AIDS patients are stuck in other wards, they miss the morale-building that goes on in an AIDS ward and are vulnerable to discrimination from other patients or staff,” Fall said. “If there was a ward, it would minimize their isolation and be less dislocating for them and the staff.”

However, Rabbi Allen Freehling, chairman of the AIDS commission, said the task force will also consider the argument that putting AIDS patients in a separate ward actually contributes to their isolation. The debate takes place against the specter of a rising caseload in Los Angeles County. As of Feb. 29, the county had 4,437 AIDS cases, resulting in 2,768 deaths, compared to 3,813 cases in San Francisco, which resulted in 1,897 deaths.

County-USC Medical Center treats an average of 50 to 60 in-patients with AIDS or AIDS Related Complex per day, surpassing by far the county’s other five hospitals, said John Schunhoff, assistant administrator of the AIDS program office for the county Department of Health Services.

At the hospital Saturday evening, about 50 members of Fall’s group, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power/Los Angeles, marched with signs reading “AIDS Unit Now” and “AIDS Unit Means Better Treatment.” The group was planning to camp out in front of the hospital on cots set up as part of a mock AIDS hospital unit.

Responds to Protest

Dr. Eiming Djang, a Glendale internist who is chairman of the AIDS unit task force, responded to the protest by saying he hoped that the process of exploring whether to establish an AIDS ward will not become combative.

He acknowledged, however, that his group has yet to meet, since being established in April. He said the AIDS commission will probably grant his request to extend the July 15 deadline by 30 days.

“There has been no attempt to obstruct the process,” Djang said. “It’s just been difficult to get 21 people--doctors, AIDS service workers and hospital administrators--to serve on a voluntary basis and all agree on a time to meet.”

The issue was first formally reviewed by the county Department of Health Services in 1987, when it adopted the position of County-USC Medical Center staff members and administrators, who deemed the ward unnecessary, Schunhoff said. But Djang said he believes that the staff may now support creation of the special unit.

No one from the hospital was available for comment on the issue.

Get Personal Attention

At San Francisco General Hospital, Alison Moed, the nurse in charge of the 20-bed AIDS unit, said AIDS patients appear to prefer the ward to other parts of the hospital because of the personal care and attention they receive there. AIDS patients are treated elsewhere in the hospital when the special unit is full, she said.

“This is a wonderful place to be sick because you are safe, cared for and loved here because everyone who works here wants to take care of people with AIDS,” Moed said. “But I have seen patients receive good care outside the ward. It just depends on how much opportunity the staff has had to be familiar with AIDS issues.”