This spring, Oasis Free Clinics Executive Director, Anita Ruff, approached me in the doorway of
my office, saying, “Hey! I have a great opportunity!” Anyone who knows Anita knows the light
in her eyes that accompanies statements such as these. As the Mental Health Coordinator at the clinic, I have grown to look forward to these moments, as they have generated powerful
community partnerships that have allowed me, among many other things, to pursue the mission
of connecting our patients to no cost, brief intervention counseling with volunteer clinicians for
the past year and hopefully many years to come.

This opportunity was unique. Our building mates and community partners here at 66 Baribeau
Drive, Southern Midcoast Communities for Prevention, had shared a project they were working
on with Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and the Co-Occurring Collaborative Serving
Maine (CCSME). The project’s goal was promoting the wellness of fishermen in our community
through awareness, education, and resource sharing. This aligned well with the work we do at
Oasis and seemed like a great opportunity for us to get involved.

First, though, let me share a little information about the organizations participating. The Southern Midcoast Communities for Prevention’s mission is to collaborate within our communities to promote healthy choices by youth surrounding substance use. Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association is a local non-profit working to enhance the sustainability of Maine&39s fisheries by advocating for the needs of community-based fishermen. You may have seen their sign on Pleasant Street; it’s a really good one! As a side note, fishermen is an accepted identity for both male and female identified individuals who fish in our community. Finally, the Co-Occurring Collaborative Serving Maine is a non-profit that advocates for best practices, encourages professional development, maximizes collaboration, and facilitates integrated health and behavioral health services.

The Southern Midcoast Communities for Prevention, led by Manager Jennah Godo, had let Anita know they were looking for involvement from a community health representative who provided healthcare to fishermen in our community. At Oasis, our patients individuals 18-64 without health insurance who are residents of Brunswick, Harpswell and the Islands, Freeport, Durham and Sagadahoc County, many of whom are fishermen. Monique Coombs, Director of
Community Programming with Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, was leading the project
with the goal of providing an introduction to the experience of fishermen living and working in
our community, addressing the impact of climate change, discussing access to the waterfront and fishing markets with the hope of generating more resources for the physical and mental health care of this population. Maine Coast Fisherman’s Association has been offering a Fishermen Wellness program with resources to support the mental health and well-being of commercial fishermen (made possible by support from the Builders Initiative, the Fisher Charitable Trust, and the Sewall Foundation), and provides up to three sessions of covered mental health treatment with a network of clinicians experienced in working with the specific set of challenges this population faces.

With the generous support of Education Programs Manager Peggy Spencer at CCSME, the
Prevention team, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, and I organized a four-part training
series for mental health professionals and anyone interested in learning more about the
experience of fishermen in our community. Topics included:

– Commercial fishing by land and by sea, looming threats, and community changes
– The Impact of culture and environment on healing relationships in the fishing community
– Community resources for the commercial fishing community
– A case study composed of themes shared about the fishermen’s experience in the
previous sessions.

We had a wonderful turnout of 30 attendees looking to better support commercial fishermen in
our community. Our efforts have generated a partnership with the University of New England’s
Center for Excellence in Education with plans of offering continuing education for students and
community members on the interdisciplinary patient care of fishermen with the goal of meeting
their physical and mental health needs.

Those voices at sea are our community’s fathers, mothers, children, aunts, uncles, friends, and
our patients working to support themselves and their families in the way their family and our
state has provided for generations. Fishing is physically demanding work and impacts the health and well-being on those who do it. It is also an industry that is buffeted by legislative, financial, and environmental forces, few of which those doing the daily work have control of. This creates significant stress, which takes a toll on the fisherman, the family, and the community. We are here to provide holistic and comprehensive healthcare for this community. If you have a fishermen in need of support, please contact us.

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