This year marks the 25th anniversary of Oasis Free Clinics becoming a non-profit free medical clinic in our community. We scheduled a gala to honor those who have served our patients for September. Our board of directors had recently revised our mission, vision and values with an eye towards our future. Our strategic plan was rewritten, identifying new directions for our path forward in an ever-changing healthcare landscape. Like it did for many other things, the pandemic disrupted our plans to celebrate this major milestone in our organization’s history. What didn’t change was our unwavering commitment to being here for our patients – just like we were when we started in 1995 and as we intend to be for as long as our community needs us.
In 1992, the Tedford-Oasis Program, a non-profit community-sponsored shelter for adults experiencing homelessness, began the Tedford Health Care for the Homeless Program. Started by Dr. Peter McGuire, this volunteer-run program was created to provide medical care to people in our community who did not have access or could not afford to pay for care anywhere else. Located on Pleasant Street in Brunswick, volunteers came to the shelter on Tuesday nights, helping anyone who showed up. Over the next couple of years, the number of people who showed up on Tuesday nights grew. By 1995, the Tedford-Oasis Program board of directors found it difficult to manage the growing clinic in addition to the expanding homeless services for our community, and as a result, a new non-profit, the Oasis Health Network, was created. Oasis patients are those without health insurance, between the ages of 18 and 64, who live in Brunswick, Freeport, Harpswell, or the towns in Sagadahoc County.
With a small budget of $20,000 and donated space at Regional Hospital on Baribeau Drive, the new organization continued to grow. Volunteer physicians, including Dr. John Kanwit and Dr. David Howes joined Dr. McGuire in treating patients’ acute and long-term healthcare needs. Local nurses, including Lois Skillings, Peg Johnson, Gayle Hays, and Terry Marcello, volunteered on Tuesday nights as well, educating patients on their health conditions and connecting them to local resources. During the late 1990s, some of the issues facing Oasis patients included lack of dental care, poor access to routine eye care and glasses, limited mental health services, and the cost of expensive medications.
In 2004, working off a model created at Oasis for its patients, a community–wide task force was formed to evaluate the issues surrounding patient medication compliance and to develop a long-term community solution. As a result, the Community Prescription Assistance Program (CPAP), housed at Oasis, was created. Serving anyone who lives or sees a medical provider in the Oasis service area, CPAP connects patients and providers with pharmaceutical free care programs, assuring that people have the lifesaving medications they need. Since it was created in 2004, CPAP has procured over $14 million in free medications for residents of the Midcoast.
Oasis has been the medical home for so many in our community. In addition to receiving primary care, Oasis patients have had access to specialty care, thanks to physicians who gave their time and expertise to Oasis, helping our patients manage diseases like diabetes, lung disease and heart disease. Women’s health services have been a cornerstone at Oasis, with our volunteers making sure that women have felt comfortable and safe in our care. Mental health services have been a critical need at Oasis, and while never enough, we have been fortunate to have several psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and counselors who volunteered to help our patients. Thousands of people have been served by the Oasis medical clinic since its inception.
Since the early 2000s, Oasis has partnered with a variety of providers and organizations in order to connect patients with services that they might not otherwise have access to. This included creating a network of eye care specialists from Damariscotta to Freeport who provided free eye exams and glasses at low cost, identifying chiropractic care for patients, and setting up a volunteer driver program. It was through one of these partnerships that the Oasis Dental Clinic was established.
After being approached by members of the Merrymeeting Bay Dental Society and Catholic Charities, the Oasis Dental Steering Committee, led by Dr. Jack Bauman, was formed to create a dental clinic for Oasis patients. Local dentists, including Dr. Rick Elsaesser, Dr. Walter Higgins, Dr. Curt Obery, the team at Topsham Dental Arts, and many others came together to provide free dental care for our patients, and the first Oasis dental clinic was held in January 2006. Twice a month, volunteer dentists, hygienists and assistants provided oral health exams, restorative care and extractions in space donated by Jesse Albert Dental Clinic in Bath. These bimonthly clinics continued for 10 years until Oasis opened its new dental clinic, co-located with the medical clinic at 66 Baribeau Drive in Brunswick. Since that first patient in 2006, Oasis has helped thousands of people get the dental care they needed with services estimated in value of over $2 million.
In our 25 years as a free medical and dental clinic, Oasis has grown significantly to meet the needs of the community. The original $25,000 budget is now almost $400,000 – and it is still raised locally thanks to the generosity of our community. Oasis has never received any state or federal funding. No patient has ever been charged for care they received at the clinic. We sincerely mean it when we say our services are free. The principles that were central to our founding 25 years ago – access to healthcare, respectful caring relationships, adaptability, service, and community – are still critical to who we are and what we do today. Twenty five years later, we continue to change lives and strengthen community.
Oasis Free Clinics is a non-profit, no-cost primary care medical practice and dental clinic, providing exceptional, patient-centered care to uninsured members of our community. For more information, please call 721-9277 or visit www.OasisFreeClinics.org.