Tuesday, June 30, 2020


From AIDS to the Coronavirus and Beyond: 
Let’s Break the Shackles of History, Together 

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By Arthur Fitting BSN, RN, LGBTQ Program Manager, Visiting Nurse Service of New York, June 30, 2020 

As a public health nurse, a gay man and a New Yorker, I have lived, cared and lost through the AIDS crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. Across the span of four decades, I see far more similarities than I’d like in how we are dealing with both pandemics. I also see—and am fortunate to be part of—a better way forward, which starts with making plans to ensure that all vulnerable people in our society have access to and are linked to healthcare, bringing all communities to the healthcare table and learning as Americans that we are all connected to one another. 

Yet it must be noted, especially at this moment in time, when PRIDE events are coinciding with ongoing Black Lives Matter protests throughout the nation, how deeply discrimination still tarnishes the freedoms we’ve fought so hard to win.

In the 1980s, I spent frightening and mentally exhausting months caring for my partner as his life was being quickly taken away by AIDS. Recently, I’ve been monitoring oxygen levels, arranging telehealth visits with our doctor, delivering trays of food, and compulsively washing hands and surfaces to care for my husband, who is finally on the long road to recovery from COVID-19—neither of us knowing what would happen next at each step along the way. I was more than uncomfortable with frequent flashbacks of my experience during the AIDS crisis. The exhaustion itself, a new reminder of inner and outer protests from the past.

As a public health nurse, then and now, I have cared for so many others—individuals and, person by person, whole communities—suffering from these two devastating, isolating diseases.  

A painful history can be seen in the cruelty and heartbreak of people dying alone, having no known treatment and not knowing what would be happening next. In the 1980s and 1990s, the isolation was because of stigma, fear of a disease about which so little was known, and fear, by association, of gay men, who were on the margins of society in the first place. As a young nurse with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) doing infusions for desperately ill AIDS patients in their homes, I saw far too many patients and friends die of a disease that spared no one,(at that time) I redoubled my commitment to be part of VNSNY’s pioneering health care force, which leads the way in not only delivering clinical care but also disseminating information, helping patients navigate stigma and isolation, and creating home health care programs to support vital quality care at home. 

With coronavirus, it’s the easy transmissibility that isolates people from their loved ones in their final days. Family and friends cannot see loved ones or mourn together. Health care workers—in head-to-toe protective gear—stand in for loved ones where they can. This includes some of my courageous, compassionate nursing colleagues in VNSNY Hospice, who have told me stories of convening tearful FaceTime goodbyes, holding a hand in the final moments, and blowing a kiss to a dying mother at a grieving daughter’s request. 

Coronavirus, like AIDS, preys disproportionately on people in black, ethnic and other minority at-risk groups and in underserved communities. My younger self—a nurse during the AIDS crisis, comforting largely marginalized people facing what was then a certain death sentence—would have been surprised to see how little progress we’ve made in closing the gaps in health disparities. Progress remains painfully slow in making sure people have access to the care, food, housing and support they need to live healthy lives, whether during the current pandemic, a new mysterious disease, or in response to America’s ongoing epidemic of chronic illnesses like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. 

At the same time, my younger self also would have been proud—and indeed I am—of how community health organizations like the one I still work for are addressing social determinants of health. Through forward-looking collaborative partnerships, we bring comprehensive quality care directly into the home, taking a holistic view that includes making sure people have food in the refrigerator, adequate heat and air-conditioning, and a way to obtain and correctly take needed medications as well as other day-to-day necessities. 

We in the LGBTQ community stand on stronger footing now than ever before. Forty years after the emergence of the AIDS crisis and fifty years after Stonewall, LGBTQ Americans find themselves living in a world of more emerging “normalcy,” PRIDE, and marriage equality. When I am caregiving for my husband during an epidemic with so many unknowns, it is no small consolation to know that we are married under the law, with certain bedrock rights, as referenced in the NYC Department of Health LGBTQ Health Care Bill of Rights.

But there is more to do. LGBTQ New Yorkers who are 55 and older— the people I serve most closely in my role as LGBTQ Program Director for VNSNY—are once again in a high-risk group during a pandemic, and social isolation is again the order of the day. Even before the virus, LGBTQ seniors were much more likely than their non-LGBTQ peers to avoid the health care system as they age—which is when they need access most—and to report feeling more isolated and vulnerable, according to SAGE, the advocacy group for LGBTQ seniors. I am again proud of our organization for ensuring that every employee—from senior leadership to top managers, to administrative assistants and clinicians across all divisions—has taken SAGE training in how to provide safe, culturally sensitive and trusted care to this population.

This June, as we connect in PRIDE while social distancing, it is more important than ever to ensure that LGBTQ seniors of all backgrounds are able to age more safely and in better health. To help make that happen, VNSNY’s Center for Home Care Policy and Research has teamed up with SAGE on a survey of LGBTQ New Yorkers age 55 and up. Data from the survey will be used to understand how older adults perceive and experience their own communities, to pinpoint barriers to aging well, accessing health care, transportation and adequate housing—and to create solutions. We encourage all 55+ LGBTQ+ New Yorkers to fill out the survey at: bit.ly/SAGE-NYC-LGBTQ-Survey

To bridge isolation and create the connections we yearn for these days, we must continue to raise our voices—an important quality of being proud, but also of being heard on these essential matters of healthcare and aging. If we look closely across the decades, we can see the real path forward to healthier living and the antidote to dying alone: living, learning and moving forward together.  

Saturday, June 20, 2020

NYPD- Cops Threaten Sickout

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Friday, June 19, 2020

LGBTQ Care, Pride Continues Through Pandemic

LGBTQ Care, Pride Continues Through Pandemic

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By Alana Murphy, Program Chair to Healthcare Equality Index for Human Rights Campaign at Montefiore Health System, June 17, 2020

This year, Pride takes on a new meaning for all of us. As the world continues to recover from a pandemic, we have already witnessed Pride in our collective admiration for all the healthcare heroes helping to keep us safe every day. 

We witnessed Pride in the celebration of these heroes each night with clapping, ringing bells, and banging on pots and pans in appreciation for those risking their own lives for the lives of others.  

Pride speaks to the confidence and self-respect of everyone who is or has been socially marginalized by others based on their race, culture, identity or sexual orientation. We use Pride as a measurement of our progress and continued movement toward social justice for all. 

Montefiore was proud to be the first health system in New York to join the NYC Pride March in 2015. Last June, our “Your Home for LGBTQ Care” float joined 5 million others rolling down 5th Avenue celebrating World Pride. Although we cannot join the parade physically this year, we stay committed to serving our LGBTQ associates, patients, and community during this time.

We are committed to creating a safe working environment for Montefiore’s diverse workforce through policy & education by ensuring that associates are able to share benefits with their same-sex spouses, use their preferred name and pronouns, and receive LGBTQ cultural competency training to create awareness and explore biases. We know creating a safe space for our associates will translate into better healthcare for patients.

Along with continuing to see patients through Montefiore FIRST video visits throughout the pandemic, the Oval Center at Montefiore partnered with the Department of Health to send out at-home HIV test kits to patients. These kits allowed patients to continue getting their PrEP and PEP prescriptions refilled without coming into the clinic to get the required test. The clinic is now open to see patients physically with appropriate policies for social distancing and screening in place.

We partner with the CDC-funded MPowerment program to build community and provide sexual health resources for queer youth in the Bronx. In the lead up to Pride Month, the MPowerment program held a weekly virtual talent show on Instagram and weekly zoom group meetings throughout the month of May to combat isolation and bring community together. Attendees to the virtual event were also able to receive free sexual health screenings.

To learn more about how you can receive LGBTQ-inclusive healthcare all year long, visit montefiore.org/LGBTQcare.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Lincoln Hospital Honors US Military for Helping During Pandemic

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The NYC Health + Hospitals /Lincoln welcomed and integrated 145 United States military medical forces, deployed to NYC during the pandemic in April and May 2020, seamlessly deploying them into life at Lincoln Medical Center.

Feeding the Masses on a Modern Day Bread Line in the Bronx

Hundreds wait on food distribution line organized by Councilman Fernando Cabrera on May 19 outside the Kingsbridge Armory.--Photo by David Greene

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By David Greene, May 27, 2020

In many areas there are restaurants that remain open for pick up and delivery, but if you have lost your job due to the 'PAUSE' implemented in New York State on March 22, and your unemployment checks have not kicked in or the stimulus check failed to arrive-- food give-a-ways held around the borough may be the only way for many to not go hungry tonight.

Volunteers distribute food to residents of NYCHA's Pelham Parkway Houses on May 7.--Photo by David Greene

The donated fresh fruit and vegetables also helps seniors and parents of children stretch their dollars, so what they do spend in the supermarket can be abundant on the dinner plate and wholesome.

Allowing for social distancing, the line stretched to the street at the New York City Housing Authority's (NYCHA) Throgs Neck Houses on May 5, where Councilman Mark Gjonaj sponsored a weekly food give-a-way.

The 200 or so on the line were given fresh carrots, broccoli, potatoes, onions. Residents were asked to bring empty bottles and were also given hand sanitizer and masks.

Retired Vietnam veteran Maximo Fonseca was near the back of the line, when he offered, "Yes, they have vegetables over there and masks too."

Fonseca continued, "The line goes all the way down." Asked if he thought he would get something before the food runs out, he responded, "I hope." He eventually did.

On the weekly food give-a-way in the isolated area of the Throgs Neck Houses, Fonseca replied, "Well it's needed, that's the important thing, there's no more food around now."

Home attendant Lillian Cacho was on the line with her daughter, when she explained, "We came for the food, yeah, we were here last week. They have fruits and vegetables and cookies. No, we're not working, but we're trying to make it... work."

Cacho added, "Yes, it's needed. I think everyone is here, it's a long line. I'm home with the kids now."

Gjonaj stated at the same event, "I'm just so happy to be out here making sure some of the food and necessities gets to our most vulnerable NYCHA residents and an opportunity to fill their refrigerators and take care of their families."

Gjonaj added that food distributors also given some "sweetness" as on this day they also donated bagels and chocolate chip cookies.

Vietnam vet Maximo Fonseca waits patiently for his free food and face masks at the Throgs Neck Houses on May 5.--Photo by David Greene

Gjonaj explained he has been working with food distributors in the area and cut philanthropy deals with corporations like Baldor Specialty Foods in the Hunts Point Cooperative Market, Mc'Donald's and Panera Bread, in helping to secure and deliver tons of needed food.

Aleksander Nilaj, the President of the Albanian American Open Hand Association helps distribute some of Gjonaj's donated food and was busy delivering food to residents of NYCHA's Pelham Parkway Houses on May 7.

For the last several years Nilaj and his organization have been distributing food along Pelham Parkway. Today he has expanded to both the 49th and 52nd Precincts and the Throgs Neck and Pelham Parkway Houses, Nilaj explains, "Yes, we're still doing it on Pelham Parkway, only bigger."

According to Nilaj, over 700 residents turned out for food, he stated, "On one side you feel good to be able to give to people, but on the other side... when you see a big line of people, you feel bad. So many need it."

According to Dan Rospan, the Director of Development at Part Of The Solution (POTS) the need in the Bedford / Norwood community they serve has tripled since the coronavirus outbreak exploded in March.

"The amount of food we are providing is unbelievably through the roof," Rospan said. He added that POTS once served or gave away about 2,700 meals a day and now gives away 8,000 or 9,000 meals each day.

Rospan continued, "With social distancing and very, very long lines and by doing it over and over we've learned how to process and have learned the new system so well, that the lines aren't even so bad anymore, and yet we're producing much more."

Like other food distribution centers, POTS also gets food donations from city and state agencies as well as the Food Bank for New York City.

With the Bronx unemployment rate in March at a record low 5.7% and expected to soon surpass the record high of 14.2%, set back in January of 1993, Rospan adds, "All those other challenges that happen to do with unemployment, of course are exacerbated now and so the demand has gone through the roof."

Before giving food to 700 residents at Jerone Avenue and Burside Avenue on May 21, Councilman Fernando Cabrera stated, "It's extremely critical to get food and safety items to those suffering the most at this time when people are struggling to stay healthy."

Council members Gjonaj, Cabrera and Andy King are holding numerous food give-a-ways weekly, to find your nearest food distribution site call 311.

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