CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Ruth Antone, program director at Gregory House Programs, is this year's recipient of the Suzanne Richmond-Crum Award. The award honors her for 20 years of caring for local HIV/AIDS patients.
Social worker sees progress in AIDS battle
When Hospice Hawaii started getting AIDS patients in 1988, "there was so much fear," recalls Ruth Antone.
Nurses assured her there was no cause for concern, that the disease could be contracted only in specific ways, she said.
"It kind of drew me in," she said, explaining why she continued to serve people with the disease for 20 years. "So few people were supporting our patients. It broke my heart."
Tonight, she will receive the 2007 Suzanne Richmond-Crum Award at a World AIDS Day event at the University of Hawaii-Manoa Art Auditorium. The state Health Department's STD/AIDS Prevention Branch is honoring her for "20 years of courage, commitment, compassion and service to Hawaii residents with HIV/AIDS."
Antone has seen many changes in treatment and survival of HIV/AIDS patients over the years as a social worker at the Hospice, Life Foundation, AIDS Education Project, Kapiolani Medical Center and most recently at Gregory House Programs, where she is program director.
"Now there's really good medications controlling the virus in the body so most people are living quite long lives. ... Needle infection has kept infection of children way down and the infection between drug users," she said. "We've come a long way. We have a lot of good programs."
But on the observance of World AIDS Day today, she said: "Medical needs are being emphasized without keeping in mind that people still have all these social and financial needs.
"There are still a lot of people out there who don't want to associate with people in their family who have AIDS. ... There is still that other piece, and that piece is getting lost.
"People with HIV still need to stand up and say what they need. They need to lobby for themselves, to make their voice heard now as much as in the past."
In the beginning, she said, people in the gay community worked with agencies and figured out the model they needed for medical help.
Antone plans to retire Dec. 31 from Gregory House Programs, which receives about $2.1 million annually to provide housing assistance to 220 people and households. She says it does a great job: "I love this agency."
The award she will receive tonight is presented annually by the state Health Department's STD/AIDS Prevention Branch for "outstanding contribution in providing HIV/AIDS services in Hawaii."
It is dedicated to the memory of Suzanne Richmond-Crum, former director of the Hawaii Seropositivity and Medical Management Program, an HIV/AIDS medical care program of the STD/AIDS Prevention Branch.