Gina Quattrochi and City Council Health Chair Corey Johnson at a 2015 press conference. | GAY CITY NEWS
BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | After fighting a two-year battle with cancer, longtime AIDS housing activist Gina Quattrochi succumbed to the disease on December 13.
“Gina’s commitment and dedication to her work and her tireless advocacy leave an indelible and permanent legacy,” the board of directors at Bailey House said in a statement. “Her life touched countless people, and her vision and passion left a deep impact on those who knew her.”
Quattrochi was the chief executive at the agency starting in 1991. At that time, Bailey House was already operating Bailey House, later named Bailey-Holt House, at the west end of Christopher Street as a congregate residence for people with AIDS.
During her tenure, Bailey House opened a service center in East Harlem and a second housing residence in East Harlem. Currently, Bailey House offers a range of services to some 1,800 clients with AIDS and other illnesses throughout the city.
“Gina’s prior work was as an employee-side labor lawyer,” Charles King, the chief executive at Housing Works, wrote in a remembrance of Quattrochi on the Housing Works website. “Fighting for the underdog was in her genes. She was most passionate about advocacy with and for homeless people living with HIV and AIDS — especially young people. Like those of us who started Housing Works, she was totally committed to proving that housing is an essential HIV intervention that ranks at least as highly as medical care, if not higher.”
While Quattrochi frequently worked closely with other activists and agencies, she was not above occasionally breaking ranks and offering a perspective that was rare and refreshing and that departed from the prevailing spin being deployed by her peers.
Quattrochi was among the activists appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to the task force that drafted the Plan to End AIDS, an ambitious undertaking that aims to reduce new HIV infections statewide from the estimated 2,500 in 2014 to 750 a year by 2020. While the plan is supported by solid science, it has not been supported financially by the Cuomo administration.
At an August 2015 meeting that was little more than a pep rally for the plan, Quattrochi was the sole advocate to ask about funding and she estimated that it would cost $500 million to implement. Other comments at the meeting tended to blunt the sharp challenge she was posing to Cuomo’s leadership.
Later at the gathering, Tracie M. Gardner, an assistant secretary in the state health department who oversees mental health programs, blamed the State Legislature for the paltry state dollars for the plan.
“Ideally, the Legislature would have come up with its share,” she said. “That is not what happened… There has to be buy-in by the Legislature.”
Longtime AIDS activist Peter Staley complained that the plan was being judged by the amount of money being allocated for its implementation. Dan O’Connell, then the head of the state’s AIDS Institute, said, “I think we have everything we need in our hands today to get this done…I don’t want us to disable our activism by saying, ‘If we don’t have $500 million, we can’t do this.’”
Quattrochi lived long enough to see a longtime goal fulfilled – extending services at the city’s HIV/ AIDS Services Administration (HASA) to financially-qualified people with HIV. Prior to the implementation of HASA for All, the unit only helped house, insure, and feed people who had an AIDS diagnosis.
At a 2015 press conference on the steps of City Hall with City Councilmember Corey Johnson, who represents Chelsea, Quattrochi described a conversation with a friend whose son was recently diagnosed as HIV-positive. He was struggling to find housing and the mother asked for advice.
“I had to ask that stupid question that we have to ask every time: ‘Does he have AIDS?’” Quattrochi said. “If we are serious about ending this epidemic…we have to provide housing.”
The Plan to End AIDS relies on giving anti-HIV drugs to HIV-negative people to keep them uninfected and treats HIV-positive people with those drugs so they are no longer infectious. Housing, nutrition, and other services help people adhere to their anti-HIV drug regimens so they can remain non-infectious.
Quattrochi served on multiple boards and was the recipient of numerous awards that recognized her contributions to AIDS causes and to health matters generally. At the dedication of the NYC AIDS Memorial on December 1 in the West Village, she received an honor from the city health department.
“Gina was full of life, full of passion, and she loved her children and so many other people in her life so fully that we are left with an incredible void,” King wrote. “I will deeply miss her.”
In a statement, Gay Men’s Health Crisis praised Quattrochi.
“We mourn the loss of Gina Quattrochi, who was a force of nature in the fight against the epidemic, transforming the conversation about HIV/ AIDS and homelessness,” the statement read. “Her perseverance and innovation as the CEO of Bailey House has been critical in delivering housing programs and services to those living with HIV/ AIDS in New York City and beyond.”
Regina Quattrochi, who was 63 and lived in Harlem, is survived by her two adult children, Giovanni Quattrochi and Anna Lenes.
Gina Quattrochi. | COURTESY OF BAILEY HOUSE