Vandals Seeking Faster Action on AIDS Ward Strike County Building

Times Staff Writer

Protesters splattered the downtown Los Angeles County Hall of Administration building with red paint and handprints and plastered marble pillars with posters demanding the establishment of an “interim” medical ward for AIDS patients. The vandalism was the second such incident in four days.

The graffiti, which included a stenciled sign with the words “AIDS Unit Now,” was discovered in the predawn hours Tuesday, and crew workers spent until mid-morning scrubbing the building clean as an angry Board of Supervisors denounced the vandalism.

‘Irresponsible and Illegal’

“This kind of behavior is irresponsible and illegal,” board Chairman Ed Edelman said. “That is no way to make a point.”


At the same time, however, supervisors sought to reassure AIDS activists that county officials are working as fast as possible to establish a 20-bed ward at County-USC Medical Center for patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

But the facility, which is scheduled to open in September, will accommodate fewer than half of the 51 patients with AIDS or AIDS-related illnesses who are scattered in various wards in the medical center.

The lack of hospital beds, coupled with the five-month wait until the ward’s opening, has apparently been at the core of the graffiti protests, and angry AIDS activists, while denying any involvement in the vandalism, accused county health officials Tuesday of dragging their feet in establishing an interim AIDS ward.

They asserted that the Department of Health Services and its director, Robert Gates, have ignored a board order directing the department to find an area in an existing ward where AIDS patients can be grouped.

‘Want a Response’

“We want a response from the county that is adequate. We are tired of government bureaucracy telling us it doesn’t matter. We are tired of government genocide,” said Connie Norman, a member of ACT-Up Los Angeles, an AIDS activist group.

Norman and other members of ACT-Up told the supervisors that AIDS patients would receive better care if they are immediately housed together in a special ward.


But Dr. Sol Bernstein, medical director of County-USC Medical Center, defended the care that AIDS patients receive and expressed reservations about establishing an interim ward before the special AIDS ward is completed in September.

In a memorandum to supervisors, Gates voiced a similar view, recommending that an interim AIDS ward not be established at the hospital, in part because it would pull significant resources from other hospital areas, including emergency and intensive care wards.

He also said later that it was doubtful that the AIDS ward could be completed any earlier than the fall. “We can look and see, but it is a very aggressive timetable already,” Gates said.

Asked About Graffiti

At one point, supervisors asked the activists if they were responsible for the graffiti that marked the marble walls and glass doors of the Hall of Administration.

“We don’t condone it, nor do we condemn it,” she said. “But we understand the anger that motivates it.”

Last week, red paint was spilled on the steps of the health services building, and the slogan “Down With Gates” was spray-painted at an entrance way along with posters covered with handprints. Gates said it cost $8,600 to remove the paint, and no one has been arrested.