Miguel Maisonave remembers the man who fell to his knees and thanked him when he learned his HIV test was negative. “I asked him to please stand up and I gave him a hug,” Maisonave said.
He also remembers the young woman who burst into tears and ran out of his office when she learned her HIV test was positive. Maisonave ran after her, searched for her in the hallways and even went outside, looking up and down the streets for her without success.
As Assistant Director and Manager of HIV Counseling and Testing at Woodhull Medical Center where he has worked for 24 years, Maisonave has counseled thousands of New Yorkers through the worst of the 30-year AIDS epidemic. He now supervises 10 counselors who work at Woodhull and at four community-based clinics, and provides HIV education materials, support services and linkage to care at two school-based clinics.
“Two weeks after that young woman ran out of my office she showed up and wanted to pursue treatment,” Maisonave said. “I was happy. It confirmed for me the value of the counseling sessions, where we build trust with the patient and explain each possible outcome for the test – positive, negative or inconclusive – and the course of action for each.”
Maisonave’s compassion and genuine interest for the well being of his patients has inevitably extended his job duties beyond the walls of the hospital where he shares the results of HIV tests with patients and talks about their options. He also has taken patients to his church, met with their parents, visited them at home, and sat by their sick beds at the hospital.
“Miguel is an outstanding example of HHC medical providers who have promoted HIV testing, educated people on how to protect themselves from infection, and provided high-quality medical care and treatment with compassion to patients in the battle against AIDS,” said Maria Pineiro, Senior Associate Director of the AIDS Center Program at Woodhull.
Maisonave first went to work at Woodhull doing data entry in the billing department in 1987. He wanted to work with patients and moved to the AIDS Center Program in 1989 as a Medical Records Specialist doing data entry and using his Spanish-language skills to translate for patients.
That was the height of the AIDS epidemic when HHC facilities were admitting hundreds of AIDS patients a day.
“I was seeing that the bulk of patients were testing positive, and to them it was like a death sentence,” Maisonave said. “I wanted to be optimistic, to let them know that they could still continue on living with HIV if they took care of themselves and followed up with their doctors. Their life didn’t have to end there. ”
Maisonave decided to become a counselor and earned his HIV Pre and Post Test Certification from the New York City Department of Health in 1993, the year Woodhull became the first HHC facility certified as a Designated AIDS Center by the state Department of Health. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services from CUNY and a Master in Public Administration from Baruch College School of Public Affairs.
When not at work, Maisonave likes to spend time with Margarita, his wife of almost 18 years, and their four children, ages 12 to 17. He lives in Brooklyn and also does volunteer work at his church and coaches Little League baseball.
Maisonave, who himself lost a family member to AIDS, said there is still much work to be done, particularly in teaching young people about the importance of HIV prevention.
“They didn’t see what happened in the ‘80s and ‘90’s. They didn’t see people dying,” Maisonave said. “They’ve only seen the great strides we’ve made in treatment and prevention and simply think that if they get infected, they can just take a pill.
“But I tell them, ‘AIDS is a devastating disease. You don’t deserve to have this illness. And you can prevent it.’ ”