By Rebecca Panico
NEWARK, NJ – Peter Oates was working as a private nurse for Princess Diana’s father in England, but left when he was offered a job in the 1980s at San Francisco General Hospital’s slated AIDS unit.
“They offered me a job, but I couldn’t be hired because Medicaid and Medicare had withdrawn benefits for the AIDS hospital,” Oates, 66, recalled. Instead, Oates, who lives in South Orange, took a position in Newark.
Today, he leads the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center Health Care Services’ clinical program at Rutgers – Newark for HIV family care. He’s also working to provide primary care geared towards the LBGTQ community at Rutgers’ Federally Qualified Health Center.
“It’s a wonderful place to work,” Oates said of the Brick City at a June 27 Pride of Essex County Awards ceremony. “It’s a wonderful place to serve the community.”
Oates was one of three people honored for their service in the LGBTQ community by County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and the county’s LGBTQ advisory board. Elaine Helms was recognized for her work with homeless LGBTQ youth and Maren Greathouse was honored for her service as the director of the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers.
“It is our opportunity to raise awareness about issues that affect this segment of the population and recognize outstanding members of our own LGBTQ community,” said DiVincenzo, noting that Pride Month is in June. “Our three honorees have done the difficult work in their respective fields of providing support, protecting human rights and promoting understanding.”
Oates trained at the Thomas Guy School of Nursing in London from 1972 to 1975. He came to Newark in 1984, where he was the nurse manager at University Hospital’s neurosurgical intensive care unit and later, the surgical/trauma ICU.
He got his start in the field of HIV/AIDS care in 1994, when federal data shows AIDS had become the leading cause of death for all Americans between the ages of 25 and 44. Oates became the nurse clinician in the infectious diseases practice at University Hospital at that time.
Oates considered it his life’s mission, with his husband Gary Paul Wright, to advocate for HIV and AIDS health care.
“The purpose of our lives together as a couple was to connect the dots and sprinkle the fairy dust,” Oates said at the ceremony. “Meaning that we need to recognize people in the community and entities and agencies in the community who need to get together in order to build a better health care system within this county and I think we do that on a daily basis.”
The couple together founded the African American Office of Gay Concerns, which provides HIV/AIDS services to the greater Newark area. The organization is based out of Newark and offers free rapid HIV testing, condoms, sex education and support groups.
“We actually founded that in our kitchen in 2000,” Wright said as he introduced Oates during the ceremony.
Oates is also the clinical director of the Northern New Jersey Regional Partner of the Northeast Caribbean AIDS Education & Training Center. The program is also under Rutgers’ Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center and offers education and training to people with HIV.
Newark had one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in New Jersey, according to state Department of Health data from 2016. There were 15,285 reported cases of HIV or AIDS in the city, data show.
“Gay men’s health issues, and lesbian health issues, and even more importantly transgender health care issues are so totally different,” Oates said. “We really need to dig down and understand what those issues are for those individual populations of the communities and I think this research is very exciting.”