When Peter Jepson-Young died of AIDS on November 15, 1992, the man better known to British Columbians as “Dr. Peter” had one last wish: that a foundation created in his name be used to help people living with HIV/AIDS who were less fortunate than him. “There is no substitute,” the host of CBC’s AIDS Diary said in a final statement, “for the ongoing involvement and support of caring people. Persons living with HIV and AIDS have needs greater than just survival.”
Twenty years later, the reality has eclipsed the dream. Today, the closing words of Dr. Peter’s “Affirmation”, a meditation that Jepson-Young wrote shortly after his AIDS diagnosis (“The energy that is me will not be lost”), appear in descending order on the steps leading to the Dr. Peter Centre, a 30,000-square-foot complex in downtown Vancouver dedicated to “comfort care” for people living with HIV/AIDS. Since opening in 2003 as a full-service, stand-alone facility (after six years in St. Paul’s Hospital’s Comox wing), the centre has become synonymous with cutting-edge health care and healing with dignity.
True to Dr. Peter’s vision, the centre caters primarily to the Lower Mainland’s most unfortunate HIV-positive citizens: the drug-addicted, the homeless, the impoverished, and the mentally ill. Its 24 residential suites provide shelter for up to 50 people a year, while its supportive-housing program funds more than a dozen off-site beds. Its day health program, which supported 150 people when it left St. Paul’s, now serves more than 400. The centre’s much-vaunted “integrated model” of care features three nutritious meals a day, medication maintenance, art and music therapy, field trips, counselling, specialized nursing, and a supervised safe-injection program that is the envy of harm-reduction advocates everywhere.