Last year, I spoke with a group of Bowdoin College first-year students who were interested in the field of health care. They had signed up for a pre-orientation trip focused on the field. Having gone to Bowdoin, spent my career in health care, and serving on the board of directors for the Oasis Free Clinics in Brunswick, I looked forward to the opportunity to speak to this group.
I went around the room and asked each student to tell me what interested them about health care. Many were interested in becoming clinicians. Some were excited about the challenging policy questions in the field. Several simply expressed an interest in helping people.
I started my talk by providing an overview of the structure of the health care system and the different components of the health insurance system. We discussed the populations that Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance cover. Then, we discussed the gap that many people fall into — those who have no health insurance. It is this population, I explained, that Oasis serves.
Until this point, the questions from the students had been lively, but the room was starting to get quieter. I could see these students’ minds whizzing, trying to make sense of our complex health system but also absorbing what a critical role Oasis plays in this community. One student asked what happens to people who do not have health insurance in places where there is not a free clinic like Oasis for people to access primary care. “Sometimes providers will see those patients,” I replied, “but more often, they do not get the care they need. Often, these patients will arrive in the emergency department later for an issue that could have been addressed more effectively through primary care.”
Oasis certainly is an important organization because of the critical role it plays in providing health care to those who do not have health insurance. It is also unusual in that it offers dental services, along with mental health, vision care, and prescription assistance support to patients. And, it is noteworthy that Oasis is the largest free clinic in the state.
But what is truly special about Oasis extends far beyond the void it fills for the uninsured population or the services it provides. It is the way Oasis provides care that is unique. An appointment for an Oasis patient is often three times the length of a standard primary care visit. This allows patients and clinicians the time they need to thoroughly address patients’ concerns and often complex issues. In a recent visit with a patient, one of our providers realized that her patient had no ride home from the clinic. So, she drove him back home herself.
One provider has described the manner in which they care for patients as “pure.” No money exchanges hands at the clinic, and providers come to Oasis simply because they care about their patients and want to serve them. Because of our model and the generous donations of volunteer time and money from so many in our community, Oasis is able to operate this way. We provide a uniquely personal experience for patients.
Our health care system is complex, and most college students I speak to who are interested in entering the field are not thinking about the intricacies of the insurance system. They usually are motivated by the opportunity to provide people the health care they need to live healthy and fulfilled lives. They are excited to improve the way health care is delivered in this country. They are energized by the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with patients. In many ways, what they describe to me, is what Oasis is.
Oasis Free Clinics is a nonprofit, no-cost primary care medical practice and dental clinic, providing patient-centered care to uninsured adults living in Freeport, Durham, Harpswell, Brunswick and Sagadahoc County. For more information, visit OasisFreeClinics.org or call (207) 721-9277.
Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local nonprofit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community.