I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a good neighbor. I moved to Brunswick from Bath almost two years ago and found a home in a lovely neighborhood. It is close to my job at the Oasis Free Clinics, walkable to downtown, and has a nice yard. What I couldn’t know until I had lived here for a while was that it also came with friendly, helpful neighbors. The neighbor who brings me flowers throughout the summer hosted a party to welcome all of us newcomers to the street last year. Another
neighbor snowplowed my driveway when I was out of town during one of the big storms. And then there is my neighbor who has picked up my mail, loaned me tools, and swapped stories about life and parenting over coffee and cocktails. What they all have in common is their cheerful willingness to reach out and lend a hand.
When the Oasis Board of Directors started the process to revise our mission, vision, and values, there was discussion about how to respectfully represent the people we serve. We considered using the geographic and financial criteria we have to determine eligibility for our services – uninsured adults between 18 and 64 with low incomes who live in Freeport, Durham, Harpswell, Brunswick and Sagadahoc County. While technically correct and necessary for practical purposes, it seemed cumbersome and unfriendly for describing our mission. Ultimately, we landed on “neighbors in need” with the emphasis on neighbors. We all agreed that it was important that we convey that our patients are among us – our neighbors.
I have shared often in this column that almost all of our patients are employed (some with two or three jobs). I can almost guarantee that you have encountered an Oasis patient during the course of your day. Fishing, retail, construction, food service and home care, are just a few of the areas that our patients work. Patients live in all corners of the 16 towns we serve.
Additionally, our patients are family and community members. They are parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents, active in the lives of the people they love. They attend school plays, band concerts, cookouts, and sporting events. They worship at a church, synagogue or mosque. They sing in community choirs, in their cars, and in their kitchens. They coach recreational sports and teach their kids to fish, hunt, and cook.
Our patients have also reached out and lent their hands to us. During the early days of the pandemic when we had almost no personal protective equipment, a patient called me and offered N95 masks that he had in his garage. The same patient showed up a few months later with a basket of fruit for our team as a way to lift our spirits. Patients have painted or drawn art for our volunteer providers. Others have brought in recipes to swap for the gleaned vegetables in our waiting room. In short, our patients have been good neighbors to us.
When we don’t know someone or their story, there is a tendency to think we don’t have anything in common with them or that they aren’t like us. Without meaning to, we can negate someone’s individual humanity, making them seem less worthy of dignity and respect. This can lead to disconnection and divisiveness, pulling on the threads that hold together a community.
At Oasis, our job is to listen to our patients so that we can provide healthcare that honors the complex lives they bring into the exam room. By caring for the health of our neighbors with humility and compassion, we are building a stronger community together.
Anita Ruff is the director of Oasis Free Clinics, a non-profit, no-cost primary care medical practice and dental clinic, providing care to uninsured members of the community. For more information, call (207) 721-9277 or visit OasisFreeClinics.org. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community.