Being from Arkansas, a landlocked state in the South, one might think that Maine is an alien place to me with its picturesque coastline, moose and winters in the negatives rather than a low of 30 degrees. However, since I have “lived” in Maine for the past four years as a Bowdoin College student, I always say that Maine and Arkansas have more in common than one might think (except for the accents). Both have outstanding natural beauty, kind, down-to-earth people and plenty of rural communities. Residents in Maine and Arkansas share another common characteristic — limited access to health care.
Working with Oasis Free Clinics in Brunswick this summer has opened my eyes to the dire need for health care in Maine, a microcosm of the need for health care across the country.
Over 27 million people, or 8.3% of the population, are uninsured in the United States, meaning that they have to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for basic medical care. In 2021, 5.7% of Mainers were uninsured.
As I have witnessed this summer, however, people at organizations like Oasis Free Clinics work tirelessly to provide care to these uninsured folks in Maine’s communities so that they can live healthier and happier lives. While maybe unglamorous work at times, it is vital, and I am constantly impressed by my coworkers’ commitment to Oasis’s vision of creating “a thriving community that cares for all of its members.”
This summer, the majority of my work has been in the clinic with Executive Director Anita Ruff and Lead Clinician Michelle Barber.
Being in the office day to day has enabledme to see the staff’s dedication to taking care of their patients. Anita and Michelle are often in the office until 6:30 p.m., strategizing and acting on how they can help Oasis patients more effectively. whether that is through upgrading dental software, speaking with community leaders about providing on-site services to New Mainers at the Brunswick Landing, and hand writing thank you notes to donors, Anita works to make sure the team has the resources they need.
Meanwhile, Michelle, other staff members, and a number of medical volunteers buzz around as they meet and provide patients with thorough care. Unlike public and private medical offices, Oasis, as a free clinic, does not bill insurance as a means to generate revenue. While most visits at other providers last around 15 minutes, the primary care staff at Oasis can spend 45 minutes with patients assessing their needs and listening to their concerns. I was able to sit in on a couple of patient visits this summer, and within minutes of being in the exam room, it was clear to me that the care Oasis provides is unique. The extra time enables a genuine connection to be made between provider and patient throughout the visit. The medical staff patiently and attentively listen to any concerns a patient may have about their health or personal circumstances prior to addressing what brought the patient in for their visit that day.
Finally, the provider works with the patient to think through next steps and set-up an additional appointment if needed.
Along with primary care, dental staff and volunteer dental professionals tend to patients’ teeth, meeting a significant need in the community for dental care. Furthermore, in response to a community needs assessment conducted two years ago, the counseling staff frequently meets with patients to discuss and care for their mental health.
Behind the scenes, the community prescription assistance coordinator, Kim Dodge, in addition to serving as the Maine Care navigator for Oasis, speaks to patients and providers throughout the community to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars of prescriptions for patients for free. Linda Dever works in the front office screening potential new patients, scheduling appointments, and checking in patients for their visits. Their consistent dedication, along with other staff members, is imperative to the operation of the clinic and forms the backbone of the exceptional care at Oasis.
The idea of the “common good,” a call to use your skills and knowledge not for yourself but to better the world, is well known across Bowdoin’s campus, and it was a big reason why I chose to attend the school here in Brunswick.
However, my time at Oasis has taught me that although Bowdoin certainly acts on its value of the common good at times, just a few streets away on Baribeau Drive, the staff at Oasis serve the common good daily — ensuring that as many people as possible in the community can live healthier lives. We should be inspired by the selflessness and dedication of the staff and volunteers at Oasis, and use that inspiration to affect change in our own ways.
Oasis Free Clinics is a nonprofit, no-cost primary care medical practice and dental clinic, providing patient-centered care to uninsured adults in the Midcoast. For more information, call (207) 721-9277 or visit oasisfreeclinics.org Jack Selig is a 2023 Bowdoin College fellow at Oasis Free Clinics.