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The Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative

A Culture of Caring

"When you take care of a person's health, you are taking care of their family and their community as well." Those words of BVMI Founder, Dr. Sam Cassell, had a profound effect 12 years ago when the organization opened its doors, and they resonate even more today.

The Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative (BVMI) is a nonprofit healthcare provider which provides free healthcare to working, uninsured, low-income adults in Bergen County.  Based on a national model, volunteer physicians and nurses work with a small staff to deliver quality, primary care to over 1400 patients, and BVMI's network of specialists agree to see patients free of charge.

BVMI Medical Director, Arthur DeSimone MD, has seen the rewards of volunteering after retiring from his private practice. Working at BVMI these past 12 years has provided me with a very satisfying and stimulating life after retirement. Not only do I help provide free health care to those who can’t afford it but I work with the best of colleagues and volunteers who truly care for their fellow neighbors."

“It’s an underserved population in Bergen County,” says Amanda Missey, the CEO of BVMI. “People fall through the cracks of the healthcare system because they are consumed with caring for their families. Many people work two, three, or four jobs to make ends meet and they put their healthcare off for too long. One of our primary goals is to keep them out of the emergency room.

Over 150 volunteers, half of whom are clinical, provide primary health care, chronic condition management, and wellness services for patients who cannot afford services through the typical healthcare system.

“Out of 1400 patients, nearly 1000 are women; many times, they are the sole breadwinner. These are single moms with young kids, working several jobs to make ends meet. Some are also caring for aging parents as well,” says Amanda. “They always put themselves last. Our goal is to keep mom healthy and create wellness value for the entire family. Every new female patient receives a well-woman exam with a specialist who focuses on women’s health, and annual mammogram screenings are scheduled for women over 40 years of age.”

Chronic condition management is another significant component of BVMI’s services. Their Prevent Diabetes Program (PDP) is mission-critical since one-third of their total patient population is diabetic or pre-diabetic. Participants meet weekly to gain the tools needed for preventing or managing diabetes, rampant in the Latino population. A diabetes educational specialist instructs on lifestyle, exercise, stress management, and healthy eating based on CDC guidelines. The program distributes free products and recipes, offers cooking demos, and virtual Shop Rite store tours with a dietitian. Fun outdoor activities, such as kayaking, are also available to keep members interested and engaged. “We’ve had excellent clinical outcomes,” says Amanda. “We are seeing the population increase exercise time, eat more nutritious foods, and reduce sugar in their diets.”

Although general medicine is called for frequently, there are also cardiologists, podiatrists, and dermatologists ready to give of their time for the cause.

“When a new patient comes for the first time, we make every effort to put that patient with a doctor who will be their regular physician,” says Amanda. “It’s important for people to create a relationship with their doctors. A significant portion of this population has endured trauma at some point in their lives, and many come from different cultures--so trust is a big thing. We do everything in our power for the patient and the practitioner to develop a solid relationship.”

Dr. Michael G. Faust, FACOG, BVMI Board Chair notes, “While living in one of the most affluent counties in the nation, we need to be mindful of the 15% that are hard-working, employed neighbors living just above the federal poverty level and whose jobs do not include any health benefits.  Our BVMI patients are some of the most grateful and appreciative that I have ever encountered in my medical career."

As the organization continues to grow and serve the community, it’s imperative to offer continuity of care with qualified staff. Nurse managers, staff nurses, and administrative staff are on board as well as a Medical Director and Associate Medical Director in order to meet compliance. A case manager works for patients with over 80 outside organizations to ensure that all needs are addressed and managed, and interpreters are on-site at all times. 

“A year of care for the typical patient costs about $1500. We are good stewards of our donor’s money, and an effective organization that provides outstanding care,” says Amanda. “There are great stories that happen here every day!”

Looking for a way to get involved with a clinical or administrative role? Contact Elaine Posner, Volunteer Manager at eposner@bvmi.net

Bvmi.org

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