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New Digs, Patients For Hackensack's Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative

Laura Franco Zapata, volunteer interpreter, left, and Nancy Baker, volunteer registered nurse, at Bergen Volunteer Health Initiative. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Amanda Missey, president/CEO of Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative, in the intake area of the healthcare center. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Dr. Henry Lau, a volunteer physician, working at Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative in Hackensack. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Patients with no medical insurance who receive free healthcare at the Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative often leave a little money in the lobby to contribute what the can. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Administrative volunteer Micheline Hodge at work in the kitchen. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash

HACKENSACK, N.J. — Bergen County’s healthcare safety net is recruiting new patients and moving to a larger space.

In November, the Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative in Hackensack is moving from its 3,400-square-foot facility to a 5,000-square-foot digs at the corner of Essex and State streets.

The current facility is slated to be demolished under Hackensack’s revitalization plan.

BVMI, which runs completely on private donations, has an outreach campaign going in Englewood.

“Out of our 1,000 patients, 375 are from Hackensack and 50 are from Englewood,” said Amanda Missey, president and CEO since the nonprofit began in 2009.

“The two towns have similar demographics,” she added, “so we should have a lot more patients from Englewood.”

Thursday night, the BVMI board of trustees voted to change its eligibility requirements to allow more patients. Under the old requirements, someone could be too poor to qualify for free care at BVMI.

“That wasn’t right,” Missey said.

So now any Bergen individual who earns up to $36,000 a year – and any Bergen family of four that earns up to $72,000 a year – can qualify.

As long as they don’t have any insurance. Not Medicaid. Not Medicare. Not private insurance.

Some BVMI patients have insurance on the Health Insurance Marketplace but can’t afford the deductibles or copays, which essentially means they don’t have coverage.

“All our patients earn very little money,” Missey said. “They’re waitresses, busboys, landscapers, nannies, nail salon people, and people who are working in retail/hospitality service jobs earning minimum wage, or maybe less.”

Some patients have gotten heart surgery, hip surgery, colonoscopies, and much more, free.

From their point of view, Missey said, they come to a “friendly, loving doctors’ office” on Moore Street.

BVMI, founded by Dr. Sam Cassell, a retired Fair Lawn internist, works by way of an elaborate, socially conscious network.

There’s a small paid staff, Missey explained, which is necessary for BVMI to be licensed as an ambulatory care center.

Other than that, it’s all about volunteers. Sixty-four clinical professionals, including doctors and nurses, and 43 nonclinical people, including envelope lickers and interpreters, give their services, she said.

The community, Missey added, participates in hundreds of other ways, too:

Two hundred physician specialists treat BVMI patients, free.

Quest Diagnostics provides all labwork for all patients, free.

Medical students keep electronic records for the doctors, free.

Every hospital in the county provides imaging, testing, and other services, free.

“This is a culture of kindness like I have never seen,” Missey said.

For more information, call 201-342-2478.

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