VIP Community Services: A Fundraising Virtual Tribute

Thank you for Joining Us!

Fundraising Virtual Tribute: An Online Event Celebrating the Spirit of Those Served by VIP took place on Wednesday, October 14 at 7:00 p.m. It was an opportunity to celebrate three New Yorkers who have made a tremendous impact in health care and in our communities, and to hear firsthand accounts from VIP clients whose amazing journeys are inspiring to us all. Those who joined us also heard a number of excellent musicians, including multi-platinum artist Tommy James, jazz age artist Lizzie Thomas, and students from the local Upbeat NYC school.

You can always help with a donation.

Here is an online copy of our Program:

Below is a letter from Governor Cuomo

The 2020 Honoree

Pat Wang, JD
President and CEO of Healthfirst

Pat Wang joined Healthfirst as president and CEO in 2008 and today leads 4,500 dedicated employees who provide health insurance to 1.5 million New Yorkers. Founded by 15 leading area hospitals, Healthfirst is one of the largest not-for-profit and highest quality health plans in the country. The company offers Medicaid, Medicare Advantage, long-term care, qualified health plans and individual and small group plans. One in 7 residents of New York City is enrolled in a Healthfirst product.

During Ms. Wang’s tenure, the company’s enrollment increased by close to 400 percent and revenues by more than 600 percent – to about $12 billion today, and achieved the highest quality rankings for its products. She is a passionate advocate of the company’s mission to achieve optimal outcomes for its members by working in close alignment with the providers who care for them, as well as with community leaders and others to address broader social determinants that affect their health. As a child of immigrants, she deeply appreciates the importance of serving Healthfirst’s diverse membership in culturally competent ways and is proud of Healthfirst employees’ belief that the company’s members are their North Star.

Before joining Healthfirst, Ms. Wang worked at the Greater New York Hospital Association where, at the beginning of her 17-year tenure, she helped conceptualize and launched Healthfirst as a new kind of health insurer focusing on value-based, quality care for members. Healthfirst was spun off as a separate corporation in 1993. Earlier in her career, Ms. Wang clerked for the Honorable Whitman Knapp, U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York and practiced health law in New York City.

Regarded as an influential voice on health care reform, she serves as a commissioner on the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), which advises the U.S. Congress on Medicare payment policy, and was appointed by Governor Cuomo in 2020 to the Medicaid Redesign Team II. Ms. Wang also serves on the boards of directors of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and the New York Health Plan Association. A strong advocate for the local community, she is a trustee of the Citizens Budget Commission, a non-partisan, non-profit civic organization focused on the well-being of future New Yorkers.

Ms. Wang is a graduate of Princeton University and of New York University School of Law, where she received her J.D. degree, cum laude. She has lived in Yugoslavia, Taiwan, and China and is a longtime resident of New York City.

VIP Community Builder Award

Diego Ponieman, MD, of SOMOS Community Care

Dr. Diego Ponieman is responsible for Somos Community Care clinical projects, which are focused on reducing avoidable hospitalizations through proactive, coordinated care and evidence-based interventions with Medicaid members who are at risk for or are experiencing chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma. Diego continues to work on adding nutrition and lifestyle changes as a strong therapeutic intervention.

He is working with SOMOS community care and underserved communities through local clinics in order to bring a food oasis with the hoping to transform this food desserts into healthier neighborhoods.

Diego Ponieman was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he completed Medical School at the University of Buenos Aires.
He completed his Internship and Residency at Albert Einstein/Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

He later completed an Academic Fellowship in General Internal medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine where he still remains as a faculty member. He also sees patients as a Primary Care Physician at his private practice Metropolis Medical in upper Manhattan.

Diego continues to work on adding nutrition as a strong therapeutic intervention.
He is working with SOMOS community care and underserved communities through local clinics in order to bring a food oasis with the hoping to transform this food desserts into healthier neighborhoods.

Diego has led a team to add the primary care team in the treatment of SUD in the office, from adding screening through SBIRT to facilitating Bupe certification and partnering with CBO’s to work directly with our community providers.


  • Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, Montefiore Medical Center, Residency in Internal Medicine.
  • Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Fellowship in Internal Medicine
  • Medical School – Universidad de Buenos Aires Facultad de Medicina
  • Montefiore Medical Center (Internship)

Awards and Certifications

  • Clinical Excellence in Biopsychosocial Integration. Montefiore Medical Center Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.
  • Daniel C. Leicht, M.D. Award for Social Medicine Project.for Outstanding Achievement. RPSM. Montefiore Medical Center. Bronx N.Y.
  • Outstanding Achievement in Teaching Medical Students. Leo M. Davidoff Society of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University

Political Impact Award

New York State Assembly Member Michael A. Blake

New York State Assembly Member Michael Alexander Blake was born and raised in The Bronx, New York and is a son of Jamaican immigrants. His mother is a retired 40 year manufacturer and his late Father was an 1199SEIU maintenance supervisor at St. Barnabas Hospital in The Bronx.

Michael is a third term Assembly Member in the New York State Assembly representing the 79th District in The Bronx, New York. Blake has helped lead the efforts to create the first and only statewide My Brother’s Keeper education program in the country, now totaling more $56 million in three years. Moreover, Blake helped lead the charge to Raise The Age of criminal responsibility so that 16 and 17 year olds are not tried as adults in criminal court, increase funding for New York City public housing, continue to fund Diversity in Medicine medical scholarships and had his signature piece of legislation signed into law for Small, Minority and Women owned Business Enterprises with less than 300 employees who contract with New York state get paid in 15 days instead of 30.

Blake is also a Vice Chair at Large of the Democratic National Committee helping lead efforts in engaging with millennials, communities of color, local elected candidates and training. Blake has traveled to 31 states and to Japan since the DNC election in February 2017 ranging from candidate trainings to mobilizing base communities across the country.

Blake is a Five Year Term Member fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations and an Aspen Institute Rodel Fellow. Michael is a national Honorary Co-Chair of the New Leaders Council, which has trained more than 7,000 millennials in progressive policies and political organizing. He is a licensed minister in the United Methodist Church and African Methodist Episcopal church. Michael is on the board for iVOTE, served as a 2016 Resident fellow at the Harvard University Institute of Politics and recently was an advisory board member for the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. Michael is a proud alum of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

In early 2007, Michael joined then Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign as the Iowa Deputy Political Director and Constituency Outreach Director. In his 20-month campaign tenure, Blake concluded as the Michigan Deputy State Director for the general election. After the election, Blake joined the White House staff as the Associate Director of Public Engagement and Deputy Associate Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs coordinating outreach to the African American, Minority and Women Business Enterprises and state and county elected official communities. Blake left the White House to serve as the national deputy director of Operation Vote for President Obama’s 2012 re-election and helped expand the diverse electorate that later re-elected the president, leading to historic turnout among constituencies nationwide.

Featuring Appearances By:

Senator Gustavo Rivera

Actress Rachel Ticotin

Camille Schrier, Miss America

Our MC: Dr. Bob Lee

“Doctor” Bob Lee is one of the most recognized entertainment personalities in New York. For more than 30 years, he’s had a rewarding livelihood as a DJ, TV host, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist. Lee started out as a DJ for 88.7 WTNY Radio in 1978 while he was attending the New York Institute of Technology, where he later received his BA and MA in Communications. Lee eventually went on to be music director, program director and general manager for WTNY.

“Doctor” Bob Lee is one of the most recognized entertainment personalities in New York. For more than 30 years, he’s had a rewarding livelihood as a DJ, TV host, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist. Lee started out as a DJ for 88.7 WTNY Radio in 1978 while he was attending the New York Institute of Technology, where he later received his BA and MA in Communications. Lee eventually went on to be music director, program director and general manager for WTNY. He also started Doctor Bob Lee & Company, a mobile-DJ business where he traveled to different universities for parties and events. In 1980, Lee joined WBLS for a one-year internship before moving on to KISS-FM where he got his start in commercial broadcasting and earned the Top DJ Award.

In 1981, Lee was offered a job with WBLS where he has since had an exciting and diverse career. For eight years, Lee was a DJ on the weekend edition of WBLS’s renowned program The Quiet Storm under legendary DJ Vaughn Harper. He has interviewed Michelle Obama and musical greats such as Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle, Luther Vandross, Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Kenny “Baby Face” Edmonds, Wynton Marsalis, Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys, Jill Scott, and many others.

WBLS knows you can only look as good as feel; and Bob Lee’s Digital Dose will help you do both, by connecting to the latest in health and lifestyle tips from health professionals, which focus on topics such as heart disease, diabetes and other ailments common to the people in the community. Bob has also been a consistent correspondent for the Morning Show on Inner City Broadcasting, since the show’s inception with Ken Web up to the current host Steve Harvey. Lee also provided special live reports on the Morning Show for 9/11, various parades, the New York City Marathon, and other WBLS-sponsored community events.

As part of his community-based work, Lee has developed strong ties to many local and national politicians and public figures, including President Clinton, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Mayor David Dinkins, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. For more than ten years, Lee has hosted the weekly live television program Open, which broadcasts on BronxNet, a world-wide cable television station. The program features news and topics affecting the Bronx community and also treats viewers to new and established musical guests. He also hosts The Bob Lee Show, a music-intensive radio series. In addition to his on-air roles, Lee manages community affairs and government relations for WBLS.

Lee appears frequently in the Harlem community as the host of live music and other events, such as Harlem Summer Stage and R&B concerts at the Apollo Theater. His strong ties to the community are reflected in his many charitable endeavors. He’s the President & CEO of the Make the Grade Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that provides mentoring and aid to school children. This inspired him to write Seven Ways to Make the Grade, an autobiographical, motivational book written to help guide young people on their life’s journey.

He’s also the President & CEO of Bob Lee Enterprises, an umbrella for his many talents including, motivational speaking and coaching, performing in bands, deejaying and consulting for companies who want to do grassroots promotions. Lee also helps college students interested in radio careers by serving as a mentor for Table for Two, a weekly music program which broadcasts from WLIU 88.1 FM radio in Brooklyn and is staffed by interns from Long Island University.

Your Daily Dose of Quotes and Anecdotes is Bob Lee’s second published book.

VIP Continues to Make an Impact

  • As an essential provider, VIP provided critical services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Partnered with elected officials including Assemblyman Blake and Councilmember Salamanca to provide food to Bronx residents
  • VIP was among a group of organizations tapped by Mayor de Blasio to provide free COVID-19 testing, in partnership with NYC Health + Hospitals
  • Voted by as one of the Best Rehab Facilities in the Bronx in 2020
  • Served over 5,000 clients who struggled with addiction, mental health, medical issues, and homelessness in 2019
  • Established telehealth services to engage clients unable to come in for care or prefer remote care. Telehealth has been a safe, private and efficient modality for care continuity during COVID-19
  • Provided primary care to over 2,550 patients, and behavioral health services to more than 800 patients in the past year
  • Provided Medication Assisted Treatment services to approximately 1,500 clients daily
  • Supported men and women in our 120-bed men’s and women’s residential treatment centers
  • Provided housing in our six supportive housing facilities and 48-bed homeless shelter
  • Maintained highest level of Patient Centered Medical Home recognition
  • Recognized in 2019 by the Bureau of Primary Health Care for advances in health IT that improve quality and access to care

We’d like to thank our sponsors for their support:

Community Leadership Sponsor

Circle of Love Sponsors

Circle of Peace Sponsors

Circle of Care Sponsors

We’d like to thank our advertisers for their support.

We’re grateful for the support of our Event and Development Committee members! Thank you for making this celebration possible:

Event Committee

  • Don Ashkenase, MHA
  • Norris Clark
  • Priyank Patel, PharmD
  • Errol Pierre
  • Diego Ponieman, MD
  • Silvia Ronda

Development Committee

  • Salvatore Gogliormella, JD (Chair)
  • Amanda Heron Parsons, MD, MBA (Board Chair)
  • Yves Filius
  • Sara Schacter-Erenburg, MSEd, CRC
  • Dennis Murphy, PharmD

For questions, please contact Terence Boyd, Director of Development at or (347) 852-0164.


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