Looking Back on the Cedars-Sinai AIDS Unit

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John Rios-Nuckles holds a frame with photos.
Certified Nursing Assistant John Rios-Nuckles displays photos from his time on the Cedars-Sinai AIDS unit.

Last night, community members gathered at Cedars-Sinai for a screening of “The Unit: Lessons on Living and Dying,” a documentary about the Cedars-Sinai AIDS unit. The film was created by the AIDS Monument Project in West Hollywood.

“All we had was hope”

In 1990, Cedars-Sinai opened a 22-bed AIDS and Immune Disorder Center. Each employee who worked on the unit—including physicians, nurses, a pharmacist, a dietician, and a social worker—volunteered for the assignment.

At the time, treatments were still being studied and most people who got AIDS would die from it. AIDS patients faced discrimination in their day-to-day lives because the disease was associated with gay sex.

“My big takeaway from that time is that ignorance is at the root of hatred and intolerance. Patience is what leads to greatness, and I think we really demonstrated that.”

Fear and uncertainty surrounded the disease and drew the patients and caregivers on the unit together.

“From 1985 to 1995, all we had was hope,” nurse and patient Peter Anderson says in the documentary.

Looking back

After the screening, 5 caregivers who worked in the unit participated in a panel discussion, sharing memories and talking about how the unique opportunity to care for AIDS patients during the crisis has shaped their lives.

“My big takeaway from that time is that ignorance is at the root of hatred and intolerance. Patience is what leads to greatness, and I think we really demonstrated that,” said nurse Dee Dee Klute-Evans.

“I would not be the same woman today if I didn’t have those experiences.”

Nurse Jennifer White-Geller was only 21 when she joined the AIDS unit.”Working in the unit really helped me develop my sense of community and stewardship,” she said.

“I would not be the same woman today if I didn’t have those experiences. My husband and I joined the foster care system and adopted 3 children, and the fellowship of our team steered me toward that lifetime commitment of service for others.”

Watch the full documentary “The Unit: Lessons on Living and Dying ” at aidsmonument.org.

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