As predominantly gay men were being ravaged by a little-understood virus, they were also being vilified by the public and abandoned by friends and family. Many healthcare workers were not immune to the panic and confusion, donning gowns, masks, and gloves for fear they might catch the virus through the air or by touching a patient. Shanti proved to be not only a key support network for patients, but also played a key role in educating the public and healthcare professionals.
In early 1983, Kaiser Permanente invited Geary and several AIDS patients to tell their stories to doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.
"That was so empowering and so transforming for the healthcare professionals. A lot of them had never seen a person with HIV at the time or interacted with one. Hearing the stories firsthand was a tremendous opportunity for them to dispel a lot of the stereotypes that they had previously held."
The kind of dialogue could help healthcare professionals better treat patients suffering from today's epidemics: obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, for example, he notes.
Geary went from being an activist for all AIDs patients to an advocate for one in 1992, when his own lover of 20 years, Jess Randall, was diagnosed with AIDS. As they navigated the healthcare system together, many of its problems—issues with which the industry still grapples today—became painfully apparent.
About a year before Randall died, he was admitted to the hospital with a high fever and a sepsis infection. That was Geary's first encounter with the dangers inherent in lack of care coordination and patient engagement and empowerment.