ATLANTIC CITY — AtlantiCare’s World AIDS Day ceremony balanced remembrance of those who died or who live with HIV/AIDS with hope for the future Thursday in the chapel at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus.
Inside the chapel, an In Memory tree lets people write the name of a person who is living with HIV/AIDS or who has died with the virus in his or her system. The leaves are in the shape of a hand.
Terri Dade, 41, of Pleasantville, works in AtlantiCare’s Human Resources department. She put a leaf on the tree in memory of her cousin David Gibbs, who died in the late 1980s while he was in his early 30s.
Gibbs was one of Dade’s favorite cousins. He died when she was in elementary school. At the time, she didn’t know what was going on.
“I remember hearing that he was sick, and at the time, I wasn’t that aware of the AIDS virus, but I just remember him being a very strong-willed person and always being encouraging,” Dade said. “I feel like I’m so much more educated now as far as HIV and AIDS.”
During the 30-minute ceremony inside the chapel, the audience was told that as of Dec. 31, 2015, the people living with HIV or AIDS in this state numbered 37,000, said Dr. Deborah Bayer, an infectious disease specialist at AtlantiCare.
Of the 37,000, 1,400 are in Atlantic County and 664 are in the city, Bayer said. During the last year, AtlantiCare’s clinic saw 570 patients with HIV or AIDS, most of them from the city, but also coming from the surrounding counties of Ocean, Camden and Cape May, Bayer said.
“Twelve people were lost this year,” Bayer said. “They died with the HIV disease, but they did not die from their HIV disease. The days of the early ’90s are gone when up to 90 percent of patients died from opportunistic infections.”
The patients are dying from the same things that HIV-negative patients are dying from: car crashes, other accidents, heart disease and cancer, Bayer said.
“The number of cases attributed to injected drug use is going down, but the number attributed to any kind of sexual contact is rising,” Bayer said.
Patients or employees with HIV or AIDS, or who are members of the LGBTQ community, do not face discrimination, embarrassment or alienation at AtlantiCare, said Dr. Edward Hamaty, chairman of AtlantiCare’s department of critical care.
AtlantiCare usually scores 100 percent on the Health Care Equality Index by the Human Rights Campaign, Hamaty said.
The index is the national benchmarking tool that evaluates health care facilities’ policies and practices related to the equity and inclusion of LGBTQ patients, visitors and employees.
Adam Thompson is the regional partner director of the Southern New Jersey Local Performance Site of the Northeast Caribbean AIDS Education and Training Center in Voorhees, Camden County. He ended the program on a hopeful note.
“What makes us great as Americans is that we recognize when we have problems, and we do something about them,” Thompson said. “An AIDS-free world starts with an AIDS-free town. ... I would like to come back in another year and hear that you are AIDS-free here.”
The In Memory tree will be in the chapel at ARMC, City Campus, for the next week.