In 2001, Sam Cassell, an internist in Fair Lawn, retired from active practice. He did all the things that you are supposed to do when you retire – read books, joined the Y, played bridge and traveled. While on a trip to the Far East, he was instrumental in arranging for a young Vietnamese girl to get free medical treatment in the US. From there, he went on to participate in a medical mission to Haiti – an experience he planned to repeat until back surgery made it impossible. But, Sam was hooked on volunteerism.
A chance exchange got Sam thinking about the needs of people right here in Bergen County. After many conversations with others who provided vital services to those in need – and after discovering Volunteers in Medicine, which offered a proven model of providing healthcare through volunteer health practitioners – Sam began to recruit people to help him build Bergen County’s only healthcare center that provides free primary care to low-income Bergen County residents who are working but don’t have insurance.
The BVMI healthcare center opened its doors in November, 2009. More than 50 volunteer doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and other medical professionals were recruited. A network of more than 200 specialists agreed to provide pro bono care for BVMI patients. And every hospital in the County agreed to provide free diagnostic tests for BVMI patients.
Today, BVMI has a dedicated team of 65 volunteer healthcare practitioners providing care to 1,000 patients annually. We’ve expanded our hours to five days a week, including one evening. We have a nurse practitioner on staff who is available for phone consults and sick visits, helping to keep patients out of the emergency room. BVMI works to address the unique needs of our patients through the Diabetes Care and Education Program, the Women’s Health Initiative and other chronic disease management programs.