Providing Quality Healthcare for the Uninsured through Volunteer Clinics

On the Road with CFNJ

On the Road with CFNJ aims to highlight critical issues facing communities in New Jersey and introduce some of the good people doing great work across the state.  Week in and week out, members of the CFNJ grantmaking and program teams are fortunate to meet nonprofit leaders and their colleagues who are putting out tremendous energy, resourcefulness and care in the work they do to make New Jersey a better place for all. 

Rather than keep our visits and conversations a well-kept secret, we hope to share our travels with you, so that you can meet folks yourselves, see their work in action, and think about how this work – and other like-minded institutions in the state – dovetails with your own personal, professional and philanthropic interests.

In New Jersey, about 10 percent of residents 64 and younger do not have insurance.  Even with the Affordable Healthcare Act, many of these individuals, most of whom are the working poor and their children, cannot afford insurance or it is not available to them.  Across the state, volunteer clinics like Bergen Volunteer Medical Institute fill the gap.

The first thing you notice when you enter the Bergen Volunteer Medical Institute (BVMI) is the colorful row of lime green and pale grey chairs that line the waiting room.  And the quiet calm, in the midst of a bustling medical office.  Women sit in the chairs, filling out forms and waiting to be seen.  The receptionist is friendly and welcoming.  BVMI has been in this state of the art space since last spring; it is a free primary care clinic, serving low-income adult residents of the greater Bergen county area who are working but do not have insurance.  Since moving to its new location, just down the street from Hackensack University Medical Center, it has experienced explosive growth largely through personal referrals of the 1,300 existing patients, says CEO Amanda Missey, who has run the Institute for 4 years.

The NJ-licensed Institute has a small paid staff, and largely runs on the expertise and largesse of more than 65 volunteers – doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, therapists, social workers, pathologists, case managers and the administratively inclined.  Seventy percent of the Institute’s patients are women – and 70 percent are Spanish-speaking, although patients speak some 15 different languages.  Every woman who walks in for an appointment receives a gynecological exam, as well as a mammogram, if she hasn’t had one before. Quest Diagnostics offers the Institute free blood work, and the Institute has close relationships with area hospitals, where it refers patients who require specialized care.  Many of the clinic’s patients are diabetic or pre-diabetic, or suffering from other chronic health conditions.  The medical professionals who give their time enjoy the fact that they can give plenty of it:  they have much greater latitude in spending time with their patients.  Continuity of care is important, and the staff aim to build relationships with their patients that reinforce wellness and prevention.

BVMI opened its doors in 2009, but it was about 5 years in the making by the ‘gang of five’ who banded together with a good idea, and brought it to fruition.  Sam Cassell, an internist from Fair Lawn, first came up with the idea, built on the Volunteers in Medicine model he knew about from some international medical volunteering.  Janet Finke, a CFNJ fundholder, is one of those special communitarians who had a lot of experience working with nonprofits, and joined Sam to bring it to life.  Nearly 15 years later, BVMI is an important part of the health and wellness ecosystem in Bergen County.  It is pristine, professional and, well, beautiful!

For more information about BVMI, go to their website at or reach out to Amanda Missey at

Wonder who else is doing this good work?  Check out some of the volunteer and free medical clinics service patients in your part of the state: