Seeds of Hope: Help on Wheels

In the past six years, Michael Augustowicz has given more than 5,670 hours of his time to the Bergen Regional Medical Center, working closely with the recreational department to create therapeutic and engaging activities for residents.

Michael Augustowicz
Michael Augustowicz, a former resident of the Bergen County Regional Medical Center, has given more than 5,670 hours of his time to the facility.
Photo by John Emerson

Most people can’t wait to leave the hospital. Not Michael Augustowicz.

For nearly three years, he lived at the Bergen Regional Medical Center in Paramus while recuperating from partial amputations of both feet due to chronic diabetes. Released in 2007, he spent just one day away from Bergen Regional before returning the next morning—this time, as a volunteer.

With 574 beds in the long-term care division alone, Bergen Regional Medical Center is the largest licensed nursing home in New Jersey, providing comprehensive health care to the elderly, mentally impaired, uninsured and underinsured.

In the past six years, Augustowicz, now 56, has given more than 5,670 hours of his time to the facility, working closely with the recreational department to create therapeutic and engaging activities for residents—from field trips to community bingo nights and pumpkin farms, to in-house Earth Day celebrations and biannual formal dinner parties. Augustowicz starts organizing in July for the project he calls his “pride and joy”: a holiday gift drive for the hospital, in which local organizations and churches donate presents to patients each December.

“We are very blessed to have Michael,” says Donnalee Corrieri, vice president of marketing and public relations at BRMC. “His commitment, compassion, energy and enthusiasm positively impact the lives of the patients and long-term care residents.”

Though Augustowicz uses a wheelchair, he doesn’t let that slow him down. “I’m not handicapped, but handy and capable,” he says wryly. His work at the Bergen Regional Advocacy Network includes acting as a liasion for the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities. He also volunteers for the Heightened Independence and Progress Center for Independent Living, as well as contributing to the development and passage of a recent state law requiring special seatbelts for wheelchair passengers in ambulances and other private medical vehicles.

To Augustowicz, who is single, the residents and staff at Bergen Regional are his second family. For him, staying away just isn’t an option. “I like being able to give back.”

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