PARAMUS, N.J. – Leaders from Bergen Community College and Bergen New Bridge Medical Center see many similarities between the public organizations – enough to resemble a Bergen County-based extended family, of sorts, driven by mission and values.
One stands as the No. 1 college for associate degree graduates in New Jersey; the other maintains the largest number of staffed beds in the state. Each holds a deep connection with Bergen County government and its leaders, who regard them as central to the county mission. Most importantly, both represent community centers for residents that offer access to high-quality resources.
With so much in common – and being separated by less than three miles of physical distance – officials have taken significant steps in recent years to develop new meaningful connections that provide additional clinical learning opportunities, employment pathways and joint initiatives to improve the quality of life in Bergen County.
“As president, I have sought to nurture partnerships in the community that benefit our students and the county at-large,” Bergen President Eric M. Friedman, Ph.D., said. “One of the most important partnerships is found within our relationship with Bergen New Bridge Medical Center.”
According to Bergen New Bridge President and Chief Executive Officer Deborah Visconi, the feeling remains mutual.
“The relationship between Bergen New Bridge and the College is symbiotic,” she said. “There’s a direct pipeline between us that’s equally beneficial and rewarding.”
Though the institutions have partnered in one form or another during the last five decades since the College launched its health professions programs, the county’s 2017 reimagination of the medical center inspired a new chapter of collaboration with the College. At that time, the Bergen County Improvement Authority executed an agreement with Care Plus New Jersey to operate the nonprofit Bergen New Bridge with the county’s financial backing. Meanwhile, the county also provides approximately 20 percent of the College’s operating budget, which further reinforces the idea of operational synergy between the three entities.
Bergen County Executive James J. Tedesco III, a vocal advocate of both entities, applauds the spirit of collaboration. It is Tedesco and the Bergen County Board of Commissioners who often refer to the College and Bergen New Bridge “as two of the jewels in the county crown.”
“This incredible pair of organizations offer high-quality higher education and healthcare for the nearly one million residents of Bergen County,” Tedesco said. “I am proud of the opportunities they offer our residents and thrilled by their cooperation in support of a common goal.”
Throughout the last decade, hundreds of students in health professions programs such as nursing, radiography and diagnostic medical sonography have completed clinical rotations at Bergen New Bridge, with many accepting full-time employment offers at the medical center after their graduation. Janice Mazurek-Reilly, who earned an A.A.S. in nursing as an evening student, now works at Bergen New Bridge as a perioperative nurse manager.
“I really wanted to serve the people that need good, quality care,” Mazurek-Reilly said. “By being a graduate of Bergen Community College, it helped give me an idea of what Bergen County has to offer. They gave me an opportunity to see what I wanted to do and how I could be the best nurse I could be in Bergen County.”
Many of the College’s non-health professions graduates have also found a home at Bergen New Bridge, including Liz Zimmerman, a senior security supervisor.
“Bergen Community College gave me lessons that I hold dear to this day,” she said. “Doors have been opened because of my education. Bergen New Bridge Medical Center provided that opportunity.”
The organizations have also partnered to launch initiatives that provide upward mobility for county residents. For example, in response to the statewide shortage of certified nursing assistants, the organizations came together in 2019 to sponsor a tuition-free Certified Nursing Assistant training program for medical center employees. Eligible employees participate in a 90-hour course led by College instructors in a learning center located on the Bergen New Bridge campus. Upon successful completion of both the program and the certification exam, graduates become part of the Bergen New Bridge long term care clinical team. The program enters its fifth year in 2024.
Full-time Bergen New Bridge employees can receive a 50 percent tuition reduction in degree programs at the College, too.
“I am deeply committed to furthering the growth and education of our workforce,” Visconi said. “I believe it is our responsibility to educate future health care providers and leaders for our community and state.”
Meanwhile, Visconi and College officials joined to play important roles on the county’s COVID-19 taskforce, with members of each organization frequently appearing at county organized news conferences and meeting to devise strategies.
During the throes of the pandemic, Bergen New Bridge and the College partnered to offer public drive-through testing – and ultimately vaccinations – at the College’s main campus in Paramus. The College’s reopening plan relied heavily on Bergen New Bridge, too, with medical center personnel offering vaccinations and boosters specifically for students, faculty and staff through on-campus appointments.
“The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic stood as a seminal moment in our relationship,” Visconi said. “We worked incredibly well together.”
Friedman, who joined the College in the middle of the pandemic in January 2021, saw the importance of Bergen New Bridge as a partner early on in his tenure.
“The on-campus vaccinations and boosters were critical to the College returning to some semblance of normalcy,” Friedman said. “It made the process so easy for our students, faculty and staff, helped instill confidence and got us back on our feet. I have a deep sense of gratitude for their assistance – especially as a new president coming into that situation.”
Friedman and Visconi communicate frequently, often attend the same events and serve on local nonprofit boards together. They even serve as advisers to county government officials for economic development. Each believe their unique relationship will help inspire new initiatives for Bergen County residents.
“I’m not aware of another community college and medical center that share such a similar definable mission,” Friedman said. “It’s a unique partnership that transforms lives and has endless possibilities.”
Based in Paramus, Bergen Community College (www.bergen.edu), a public two-year coeducational college, enrolls more than 13,000 students at locations in Paramus, the Philip Ciarco Jr. Learning Center in Hackensack and Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands in Lyndhurst. The College offers associate degree, certificate and continuing education programs in a variety of fields. More students graduate from Bergen than any other community college in the state.
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