Magazine article Personnel

AIDS and the Medicinal Power of Work

Magazine article Personnel

AIDS and the Medicinal Power of Work

Article excerpt

AIDS and the Medicinal Power Of Work

When an alarm jolts us awake to signal the time to prepare for work, it's easy to forget the enormously beneficial role work plays in our lives, above and beyond the economic benefits.

But none of the benefits involved is ever lost on Jeffrey B. Greene, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at New York University Medical Center. Over the past nine years Dr. Greene has worked closely with AIDS patients and has observed the vital effects work has on these men and women. It was this experience that inspired him to establish Multitasking Systems (MTS) Inc., a unique office services firm that hires only people with AIDS and HIV infection. MTS specializes in performing such services as word processing, data entry, list management, bulk mailings, and photocopying.

Dr. Greene says, "I have observed that my patients who remain employed during their illness do remarkably better physically and mentally than those who do not. Some people stand out in my mind as significantly deteriorating after being out of work for one reason or another."

These cumulative observations led Dr. Greene to approach Dr. Laubenstein, M.D., a hematologist at New York University Medical Center; Virginia Lehman, a social worker; and Jeffrey Shernoff, an attorney; with the idea for MTS. MTS has been in existence since 1987 in varying stages of development; it officially opened its doors for the first time last February.

The company solicited money from individuals and foundations, and received grants from corporations. "As soon as we had just enough money to open the doors and pay some salaries, we took the plunge," says Michael Weisberg, executive director of MTS and its first employee with AIDS.

The start-up costs for MTS were approximately $250,000. All revenue flows directly back to people with AIDS because none of the standard corporate trappings exist at MTS. There are no expense accounts or three-hour, three-martini lunches, and all expenditures over $50 must be approved by Weisberg. He says, "I want all of the money we make to be plowed back in so that more people with AIDS can work."

Since February, MTS has received 375 applications for in-house employment and placement in other firms. Weisberg says that the concept of the company has always been warmly received by those who test positive for the HIV virus and by those who do not.

"No one I ever spoke to said, 'You idiot, no one is going to hire someone with AIDS,'" he says. Weisberg believes this positive response reflects the changing attitude toward AIDS that he perceives taking place in this country.

The Benefits of Work

These changing attitudes greatly affect the way those with AIDS feel about the condition.

"In the past AIDS was perceived as a death sentence, and those who were diagnosed were told to prepare for death. The attitude of these patients was, 'If I'm going to die, I'm not going to work,'" he says. As a result, many quit their jobs and began to collect government aid.

But Weisberg says that people fail to realize how much work impacts their lives until they stop. Work is a diversion--it is social and constructive.

These benefits of work are vital to workers with AIDS. According to Weisberg, "You need to not be around yourself so much. You have to get away from your illness because it's on your mind anyway--it's never far away. It's never not there, and if it's all you think about, you will die quickly."

MTS helps to fill a void that exists for AIDS patients. It is not always easy for them to work. Some are the targets of discrimination, and for all patients the amount of time that must be spent on visits to the doctor and hospital stays makes it difficult to hold a permanent full-time job. At MTS the work schedules are flexible, and since all employees have AIDS, there is no secrecy: Everyone understands when an employee is too sick to come to work or must see a doctor. …

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