10:31 AM

'5B' documentary spotlights work of frontline nurses in health crisis

Like the trailblazing nurses at the forefront of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, nurses battling on the frontlines against COVID-19 are inspiring others by overcoming challenges and leading the charge toward newer, higher standards of care.

In honor of Nurses Week, University of Houston-Clear Lake's Assistant Professor of Nursing Karen Alexander, in collaboration with UH-Clear Lake's Office of Strategic Partnerships, is hosting a film, live panel discussion and Q and A of a documentary entitled, "5B," released nationally in 2018.

The film will be shown May 7 at 6 p.m. and streamed simultaneously via Zoom from the Bayou Theater at UHCL and in the Lecture Hall at UHCL Pearland campus. It highlights the courage and compassion of nurses of San Francisco's General Ward 5B throughout the AIDS epidemic.

"When I first watched the film for myself last year, I was instantly moved by the rawness of the cast and the sheer shock of the experiences they had to endure during such a scary and uncertain time, much like COVID-19," said Alexis Nwagui, Strategic Partnerships program manager. "I knew immediately that this piece needed to be brought to the UHCL community. It is necessary to not only shine a light on the impact that nurses and healthcare providers make every day as we battle COVID, but to illustrate that conditions like HIV and AIDS still continue to impact our society even decades later."

Alexander said that the COVID-19 pandemic is not the first time the U.S. has faced a public health emergency in recent history. "There are many parallels between the AIDS epidemic that began in the early 1980s, and the current COVID-19 pandemic that we will discuss — nurses and their fight against ignorance, fear, bigotry, political wrangling and patients' rights while in the midst of doing their job," she said.

Alexander explained that during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, people might have lost sight of AIDS patients and their particular medical struggles through this ordeal. "Imagine what can happen to a person who has AIDS and gets COVID," she said. "This is about real bedside nursing care."

She said there were many parallels between the two periods in our recent history when health emergencies were dominating American life. "This documentary is told in the first person, similar to a testimony given by nurses and caregivers who built Ward 5B at San Francisco General Hospital," she said. "It gives a bird's-eye perspective from nurses, caregivers and patients. These days, we see advertisements for HIV-AIDS medications and it leads you to think you just take a pill and everything is fine. But AIDS is thriving, people are still sick and dying."

The 5B Ward at the hospital had been closed, but in the early 1980s, people suddenly became very ill with a disease no one understood. "These nurses and caregivers opened that ward and began working, but at first, they didn't know what the disease was, nor how it was spread," Alexander said. "Nurses today in the pandemic are fighting the same problems."

Alexander said she was invited to a private local showing of the documentary, which was provided by Johnson and Johnson, and had the opportunity to meet Alison Moed, one of the nurses who tells her story in "5B."

"I didn't know Alison had actually been the nurse manager in Ward 5B at San Francisco General Hospital," she said. "I began talking to her and the story touched my heart so deeply that I knew we had to incorporate it into our curriculum at UHCL, as an assignment with a follow-up project. This documentary gives us the opportunity to discuss this in-depth."

Together with Strategic Partnerships, Alexander said, they hoped to make the documentary's message resonate with students in UHCL's RN-BSN program as well as nurses, care providers and members of the community.

The documentary event will culminate in a Q and A session with expert panelists: UHCL Associate Professor of Anthropology Dawit Woldu; Alison Moed, nurse manager for Ward 5B; Assistant Professor of Social Work Roberta Leal; Dr. Joseph Gathe, a Houston-based general surgeon and infectious disease specialist who has maintained one of the largest private practice clinics for HIV patients in the U.S.; and Dr. Zishan Samiuddin, a Houston-based psychiatrist with over 40 years of diverse experience.

Register for the watch party and discussion online.