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What it was like to work on the first AIDS inpatient unit in the US

Film captures the experiences of nurses and volunteers at San Francisco’s Ward 5B

Film captures the experiences of nurses, volunteers and other staff at San Francisco’s Ward 5B


Ward 5B opened as a dedicated AIDS inpatient unit at San Francisco General Hospital
in 1983. Picture: iStock

The story of a small group of nurses and others who cared for patients at the first AIDS unit in the United States has been told in a feature-length documentary.

The film 5B includes interviews with the nurses, volunteers and other staff who comforted and cared for the patients of Ward 5B at San Francisco General Hospital in 1983.

First unit of its kind

According to the University of San Francisco, within two years of the initial identification in 1981 of what would become known as HIV/AIDS, around 1,000 people in the US had died and 3,000 cases had been reported.


The film 5B will be released in the
UK later this year.

The scale of the illness prompted the opening of the country's first-ever inpatient AIDS unit, at San Francisco General Hospital.

The unit shaped how patients with AIDS were treated, and remains a national model of care.

The film will be released in the UK later this year by Verizon Media.

The company's news and entertainment and studios general manager Alex Wallace said: ‘In today’s world we need stories that remind us of the power of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. We are humbled to share the story of 5B’s compassion, humanity and selflessness.’

Staff ‘had post-traumatic stress’

In 2016, a UK film captured the experiences of nurses and doctors who worked on the first AIDS wards in London.

AIDS: Doctors and Nurses Tell Their Stories was produced by Leigh Chislett, a nurse who worked on an AIDS ward during the 1980s.

‘There were no treatments and people didn’t even know what it was to begin with,’ Mr Chislett told Nursing Standard in 2017.

‘The symptoms were terrible. Many clinicians had post-traumatic stress from the experience of caring for patients.'


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