The Giving Voice column was started as a way for Oasis Free Clinics, Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, The Gathering Place and Tedford Housing to share the stories of our work. While our dedicated supporters knew about our programs, we realized that there were many who didn’t know much about us, what need we were filling, and who we were serving.
For Oasis, we have used our columns in a variety of ways. One of the things we haven’t talked a lot about in this column is our patients. That has been by design. As a healthcare organization, our patients share their most personal and private details of their lives with our staff. I realized, however, that by shying away from talking about our patients, I have left out the most important part of our work.
We have the best patients. We really do. The people who walk through our doors are some of the best that humanity has to offer.
Our patients are the hardest working people I know. The stereotype that people use a free clinic because they are too lazy to get a job kills me. Almost all of our patients work, most two or three jobs. These are physically demanding ones, the kind that requires lifting, heaving, bending, swinging, standing, and tugging for hours on
end, year after year. For those patients who don’t work? It is often because their bodies got beat up working.
Our patients are a cross-section of our community. We have provided care to award-winning authors, musicians, and artists. Our patients have been lobstermen and women, fishermen and women, lawyers, social workers, waiters and waitresses, homemakers, and home health aides. They are parents,
children, spouses, employees, and friends. We have helped people whose lives are upended by divorce, domestic violence, substance use, death, and job loss. Some have found themselves, sometimes suddenly,
without health insurance. Others decided that it was time to address a health issue or make a health change.
Another thing about our patients – they are fun. Once, the Merrymeeting Gleaners dropped off a box of produce which contained an excessive amount of carrots. There was a hot debate in the waiting room between a group of patients and me about what to do with the carrots. I maintained that carrot cake was the way to go, and one of the patients said carrot bread was the answer. Having never heard of carrot bread, I was skeptical. A few days later, the patient returned with loaves of carrot bread for our team. When I conceded that she was right, she broke into a huge smile and declared victory.
Finally, our patients are incredibly kind, generous, and proud. Over the years, we have had several patients ask if they could pay – something, anything – for the care they received. We used to have a donation jar at our front desk but put it away at the start of the pandemic. Patients would slip bills or coins in, if they were inclined. We have had patients share lobsters or mussels, baked goods, and beautiful paintings. At the start of the pandemic, the only N95 masks we had came from a patient who found some in his garage. He delivered them to the clinic with a huge bouquet of flowers.
A year ago, I noticed we were getting a generous monthly donation from the same person. I wrote thank-you notes, acknowledging the gift, wondering about it. A couple months ago, a patient stopped by my office to chat and mentioned dropping off a check. It turns out the donations were from her mother who had been a former Oasis patient. The next month, I received a letter with the donation. It read, “I will no longer have a job at the end of October so I will send two months gifts this month and next as I committed to 12 months. God willing I will be able to go beyond that … You have helped my family much over the years. I can even say you saved our lives. I wish I could do so much more to help.”
I think about this letter and donation constantly because it exemplifies what makes Oasis patients so special. While we don’t expect nor require it, our patients often share their gratitude for Oasis staff and volunteers. Our team feels privileged to be providing care to our patients, creating a positive connection between everyone. Finally, this patient’s giving is charity in the purest form, and it reflects the Oasis values of community, service, and respectful, caring relationships.
Oasis patients are the spirit that moves us to provide compassionate medical and dental care, make sure they have access to their prescriptions, to raise the money needed, and to plan for our organization’s future. If our volunteers and staff are the heart of Oasis, our patients are the soul.
Oasis Free Clinics is a non-profit, no-cost primary care medical practice and dental clinic, providing patient-centered care to uninsured adults in Midcoast, Maine. For more information, call 721-9277 or visit http://oasisfreeclinics.org.
Anita Ruff is the executive director of Oasis Free Clinics. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community.
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