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In an interview with Florida International University’s FIU Magazine, alumnus Cliff Morrison recounted the battle to treat AIDS patients with care and humanity in a time filled with widespread fear and misconceptions about the illness.

As described in the Johnson & Johnson nursing newsletter, “the stigma around the disease wasn’t limited to the general public, it also permeated healthcare systems around the world. Many healthcare workers were afraid to touch patients diagnosed with AIDS, sometimes refusing to provide treatment. Even as more information about the virus was discovered, patients were often isolated at their last stages of life, receiving reluctant treatment by healthcare professionals who hid behind layers of protective clinical uniforms.” As a clinical nurse specialist at San Francisco General Hospital, Morrison noticed—and was disturbed by—numerous instances of mistreatment owing to ignorance about how AIDS was spread. “I began to think, there are a number of people here who agree with me—nurses that I consider my allies, doctors of infectious diseases that I had worked with. So [I thought], maybe we should have an AIDS unit,” but instead of isolating patients, Morrison’s intention was to “develop the expertise and develop a standard of care.”

So, armed with evidence-based data from University of California-San Francisco and medical experts at San Francisco General Hospital, in 1983 Morrison founded San Francisco General’s Ward 5B for the care of AIDS patients. In Ward 5B, according to FIU Magazine, “Nurses embraced their patients, held their hands and even ate lunch with them when their friends and family had abandoned them.” As Johnson & Johnson (which sponsored a documentary on Ward 5B) puts it, “Nurses showed that you didn’t have to hide behind heavy clinical gear while treating AIDS patients or burn their beds when they passed away… By pushing back against stigma, the Ward 5B nurses showed the world the power of compassionate care and exemplified the profound impact nurses have on transforming human health.”

Morrison continued his crusade for the humane treatment of AIDS patients and went on to administer the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation AIDS health services program in 12 states. He attributes his advocacy to “a combination of things: the family values that I was taught growing up, the fact that I grew up with a religious foundation. I went into nursing, and all of those things complemented each other greatly. My work matched where I was as a person, and I stayed true to myself.”

The documentary on the revolutionary ward at San Francisco General Hospital, Ward 5B, can be viewed on a variety of video streaming sites.


Koren Thomas
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