HACKENSACK, NJ (WCBS 880) – In Bergen County, there is a lifesaver – a safety net for the working poor: free medical care.

“This was a segment of the population that fell between the cracks. They were working and were making money. So, they didn’t qualify for a lot of the government programs and charity care, etc. But they didn’t make enough to buy health insurance,” says Dr. Arthur De Simone.

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De Simone runs the Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative in Hackensack.

He estimates there are 20,000 people working in the well-to-do county without medical insurance. Perhaps they were laid off during the recession and never returned to full employment with benefits.

At BVMI, the doctors and nurses all volunteer.

They have about ten doctors and six nurse practitioners, who work at the clinic and do primary care. They also have about twenty nurses.

WCBS 880’s Sean Adams In Bergen County

“None of them get paid a cent and what do we charge the patients?” he says. “We have no government help. Most of the money we [get] comes from private donations and a few small grants.”

Stories from Main Street - Photo: Evan Bindelglass / WCBS 880

Stories from Main Street - Photo: Evan Bindelglass / WCBS 880

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They’re not just taking care of cuts and colds. Patients have been treated for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

“All five hospitals in Bergen County have agreed to cooperate with us. They provide us radiology x-rays and procedures and in-patient admissions all for free,” he says. “We’ve had two coronary artery surgeries (bypass surgeries). We’ve had hysterectomies for massively bleeding thyroids. Prostate cancer operation. We’ve had three hips replaced.”

Dr. Elissa Becker volunteers once a week for five hours.

“It feels great. I really feel like I’ve made a difference in people’s lives,” she says. She believes in giving back. “That’s why I really like working here. It’s a tremendous place, from the administrators to every volunteer here. Everyone is very passionate and works hard to get patients what they need.”

LINK: Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative

One patient came in feeling sluggish. She was diagnosed with a thyroid condition and breast cancer.

“It’s amazing because [of] the love and friendship that these people extend to you. Dr. De Simone called me after my breast surgery to wish me a happy birthday,” she says. “Because of BVMI, I do get to celebrate another birthday because the breast cancer I had was very aggressive. I think these are gods – people who have decided to share their gift.”

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BVMI can also be reached by phone at 201-342-2478.