A Ward with Heart
Documentary “5B” available on VOD August 27, 2019
by Hank Trout

Commemorating the incredible, selfless work of the nurses, doctors, and staff of San Francisco General Hospital’s Ward 5B—the first AIDS ward in the country, which would become the international standard for caring—filmmakers Dan Krauss and Paul Haggis have made an inspirational and award-winning documentary, 5B, interviewing administrators, nurses, and staff, as well as volunteers like Rita Rockett (pictured in the lead image with an individual who was a patient on Ward 5B), who worked on the ward.

After Cliff Morrison became SFGH’S AIDS coordinator in 1982, the hospital staff had discussed the possibility of a special ward for AIDS patients, but “for all the wrong reasons, i.e. to separate, isolate and protect other patients and staff. I did not want to participate in anything like that,” Cliff told A&U. Instead, he envisioned an AIDS ward for the right reasons—“to centralize care, increase the quality of care by having staff that wanted to care for the patients and have an environment of inclusion and participation by patients in their own care.” The ward was completed in 1983.

Meeting little resistance, Cliff set about staffing the Ward. “There was a lot of positive response from patients, their family, friends, significant others and some staff,” Cliff said. Some of the nurses at SFGH were absolutely eager to work in the new ward. Alison Moed, Nurse Manager of the Ward, told A&U, “I found indeed that there were more nurses eager to work on the unit than I had positions to fill. Even though they might have been committed to a regular position on another unit within the hospital, they would sign on as per diem staff.”

For the next twenty years, the staff at Ward 5B treated thousands of patients. The Ward shuttered its doors in 2003, once most HIV-positive men in San Francisco had gotten access to one or more of the “cocktails” and the epidemic was no longer killing people by the hundreds every week. But their legacy lives on, in our hearts and in this incredibly moving, heart-tugging documentary. I suspect that “5B” will haunt me for quite some time.

Cliff Morrison, SFGH’s AIDS Coordinator. Photo courtesy 5B

The documentary will be available on VOD (video on demand) everywhere. Check here for more information: https://5bfilm.com.

Hank Trout, Senior Editor, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a forty-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.