In 1919, St Vincent's treated at least 356 cases of Spanish flu: 256 recovered and 63 died. Many members of staff contracted the disease. It was likely the cause of the death of nursing Sister Mary Ignatius D’Arcy. By the time of her death in January 1919 she had worked at St Vincent’s Hospital for 42 years, her final decade in the Sailor’s Ward. The first AIDS patient in Australia was diagnosed and treated at St Vincent’s Hospital by Dr Ron Penny in 1983. A year later, St Vincent’s established Ward 17 South, the first dedicated HIV/AIDS unit in Australia. It went on to become the healthcare centre for the virus, and more than half of the country’s HIV/AIDS patients were treated there. At a time of fear, stigma and uncertainty about the transmissibility of the AIDS virus, the staff at St Vincent’s provided compassionate care to those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. When COVID-19 arrived in Sydney, St Vincent’s was one of the first hospitals to take COVID-19 testing to the community, opening pop-up testing clinics in the local area and adapting its long-running homeless health support service to protect the most vulnerable people in Darlinghurst from the novel coronavirus. This audio story illuminates the activities of a bustling public hospital located in the heart of a diverse inner-city community, and the experiences of its staff, patients and visitors when historic pandemics strike.
This audio story is a production of the Australian Centre for Public History in partnership with the Paul Ramsay Foundation.
Producer: Catherine Freyne
Sound engineer: Judy Rapley
Music: Blue Dot Sessions; The Tudor Consort licensed under CC by 3.0
Archival: ABC Content Sales