KENT COUNTY, Mich — Ahead of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, a Hospice of Michigan worker is sharing her story of working on the front lines of the AIDS crisis in Michigan in the '80s.
Cynthia Pimm relocated from California to West Michigan in 1986 and began to volunteer with Hospice of Greater Grand Rapids, now known as Hospice of Michigan.
Pimm was among the first in the area to work with HIV/AIDS patients at the time.
"There was so much in the media, that was pretty scary stuff," she said. "It felt very foreign to West Michigan, especially, we were a little bit behind the East Coast and the West Coast, in our volume of numbers and in the media coverage of that... it was just complicated and ever changing, and so everybody had to just keep adapting. And you just had to get in there whether or not we had all the facts or not, you knew that you had to help."
According to Hospice of Michigan, Pimm served on the Board of Directors of the Grand Rapids AIDS Task Force, and was part of the Buddy Program to help patients without family support.
"We had to be there their support system, because family was just too scared or had already, you know, kicked them out years ago and didn't want to accept them back," she explained. "That's when we started the Home of Hope, which was our first hospice residence... we had to create a place for these people to be able to be and to be safe and comfortable when they're dying."
Pimm and other volunteers and staff faced challenges as much was still unknown about HIV/AIDS at the time.
"Trying to work with staff to get staff to be to feel comfortable to work with folks who were diagnosed or living with HIV/AIDS was a tremendous challenge, just because there was so much that was unknown," she told FOX 17 News. "It took though, very courageous nurses, some of our hospice nurses that stepped up and said... I'll take care of them, and they modeled for everybody else. And, I think it was that piece, of just a few people had to step up early, not knowing truly the entire risks, and and just did it anyway."
She continued, "I'm very proud to work for an organization for over 30 years, that has always risen to the challenge. Before we had the answers. Before we had the equipment, before we really knew what the heck we were doing, we were willing to fake it, and get in there and just do our best."
World AIDS Day is a time to raise awareness and remember those lost to HIV/AIDS. To learn more, click here.