With the closing of Rivington House fast approaching, patients at the Lower East Side care center for people with AIDS fear that they’re going to get lower-quality care anywhere else.
Founded in 1995 at the height of the AIDS crisis, Rivington House was long known as a nursing home for people dying of the disease. But it also offered a day-treatment center for people living with HIV to get breakfast and lunch, work on issues like addiction, and visit the nurse for regular health checks.
Deborah Jefferson, who says she’s been receiving outpatient treatment from the center for more than two years, says losing it will be like losing a community. “We’re all going to miss it,” she says. “It’s like family here. There’s no place like this place.”
VillageCare, the nonprofit that owns Rivington House, says medical advancements in AIDS treatment meant that the nursing home has been half-empty for years. That’s why they’re shuttering the facility and selling the building. The day-treatment center, which was housed in the same building, will fold as well. The facility is scheduled to close on November 22.
VillageCare is directing patients to another one of its day-treatment facilities on West 20th Street. Jefferson says she is planning to switch to the new center, but worries that it does not offer all of the services currently available at Rivington House, namely, its occupational therapy program. Over the years, Rivington House patients have been able to receive help with résumés and were offered assistance in finding jobs or volunteer opportunities. The program, which will continue until Rivington House closes, includes classes in computer literacy and assisting those interested in going back to school.
“Here, they’ll let me use the computer,” Jefferson says. “They don’t do that [at the Chelsea location].”
VillageCare spokesperson Rob Goldman says Rivington House’s day-treatment program “is the only AIDS day-treatment program in New York City to provide occupational therapy services in-house.”
At the 20th Street location, he adds, VillageCare “assesses its patients for therapy service needs, and then works with their physician in referring [them] to receive those necessary services.”
Meanwhile, 50-year-old Rivington House patient Sterling Coles says he has no interest in switching to the new location, which he says doesn’t share the same positive vibe of Rivington House.
“20th Street is stress. Some of them are still using [drugs],” he says. “Why should I get stressed-out more?”
Goldman could not be reached to respond to Coles’s comments about the West 20th Street location.
Coles, in many ways, is a Rivington House success story. He says his T-cell count is high: That means he’s not showing symptoms of the disease and it’s nearly impossible for him to pass it on to others. But although he credits Rivington House with keeping those T-cells on track, he’s not going to go to any other clinic. Rather, he says, he’ll be keeping an eye on his health at home.
“I’m going back to the gym like it’s my job. It’s all about me, the gym, my home, my meds,” he says. “It’s very devastating…they create such a bond. But there’s no return now.”