We have had the opportunity to reflect on our administrative and clinical operations during this situation and have discovered there are different ways in which we can both operate our non-profit and deliver care. This includes telework and telehealth. We are now routinely offering telehealth appointments as an option for eligibility screenings, as well as for medical and counseling appointments when appropriate.
We closed our medical clinic to in-person visits on March 16. However, our staff and volunteers continue to come to the office every day to answer the phones, talk with patients, and keep our administrative and clinical operations running. Our staff and volunteer medical providers talked with patients about their health problems, refilled over 500 prescriptions, and eased their worries about the virus. Our volunteer social worker provided virtual counseling—critical in these stressful times. For patients who receive their medications directly from our dispensary at the clinic, volunteer nurses and doctors came to the clinic to count out pills and label bottles, while staff met patients in the parking lot (socially distant of course!) to make sure that they had the critical prescriptions they needed. We continued to provide MaineCare navigation over the telephone as well as connecting patients with pharmaceutical companies’ free care programs. We called all of our patients to check in with them (over 600 calls) and to let them know that we were here for them if they needed help.
We closed our dental clinic on March 18. Because of the aerosolized nature of dentistry, it remained closed until September 8. Our dental director, Dr. Rick Elsaesser, spent months talking with local dentists, researching latest guidelines, and following national organizations to identify the safest way for us to re-open. We have renovated the dental suites, adding air scrubbers to remove aerosolized particles, purchased sufficient personal protective equipment, and created a respiratory protection plan to assure the health and safety of our staff, volunteers and patients. For the first month, our newly hired staff dentist will be our only provider. We intend to bring back volunteers one day each week in early October, assuming the COVID-19 rates remain stable. In January, we will bring back our 8 hour/week staff hygienist and resume our biweekly evening clinics with volunteer dentists.
There is plenty of giving happening at Oasis. Our volunteer providers have been remarkable. Dr. Jeff Maher and Dr. David Inger continue to come into the clinic to check in with staff, fill prescriptions, and call patients. This is in addition to their jobs which by the way haven’t slowed down in the face of a pandemic in our community. Yet they make time for our patients (and staff) at Oasis because they understand that the folks we serve are going to be affected by this situation more than most. Tom White and Andree Appel, our volunteer physician assistants, are doing telephone visits with patients from their homes something we wouldn’t have imagined two months ago. It keeps them safe and healthy yet connected to work and patients that matter to them. Our wonderful nursing volunteers, Laura Labbe, Patricia Burrell and Cassie Marcisso, have buoyed us with their ever present smiles, can do attitudes, and willingness to tackle any task set before them. Caroline Feely, our volunteer social worker, is doing virtual counseling helping to figure out how we can use this type of service in the future perhaps as a way to reduce travel costs for our patients.