BY BY ANITA RUFF, Executive Director – Oasis Free Clinics



At the end of January, we at Oasis Free Clinics did something groundbreaking: we kicked off the construction and renovation of our new and expanded clinic.

Located at 331 Maine St., this expansion will significantly increase the size of our clinic. We are doubling the number of medical and dental exam rooms and adding lab spaces for both.

We will have a room where our volunteer optometrist can perform eye exams.

A comfortable, welcoming space for patients to meet with our mental health coordinator or their counselor is also part of our plans. Currently, every staff member shares an office with at least one (usually two) other people, and after spending the pandemic in close proximity to one another, we are excited to have more office space available.

In some aspects, we have come a long way from our early days of providing medical care once a month in Tedford Housing’s Oasis Shelter. We are now open five days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with scheduled appointments. We have grown our services to include primary medical care, dental care, optometry, mental health care and help with prescriptions.

We have fresh vegetables in the waiting room, thanks to our partnership with the Merrymeeting Gleaners.

We also have free reading glasses, vitamins, shampoo, sunscreen, and other sundries for patients. We have strengthened our connection with the other safety net providers, which has enriched our work greatly.

We provide care in a variety of languages and now have a community health outreach worker as part of our team. Oasis, like our community, continues to evolve.

The expansion of Oasis can be viewed as a success story about how the desire to help took shape, grow, evolve, and make a difference in a community. This has resulted in thousands of people receiving tens of millions of dollars in services and medications — all at no cost to them — thanks to the incredible generosity of our volunteers, staff, and donors. That’s an achievement anyone could be proud of.

But … I have mixed feelings about it all. Of course, I like the accomplishments and the growth. We are fortunate to be able to provide care without the stress or pressure of insurance reimbursement (although fundraising brings a different kind of stress). I am extremely proud of our team and how they go above and beyond daily to make sure our patients have what they need, whether it is information, a ride, food, etc. I am excited that our new space means new opportunities and the ability to serve more people.

I wonder, though, if expanding was a misguided goal.

Those of us in social services sometimes joke that we would like to work ourselves out of a job. We hope that the need for our organizations would cease to exist because the social problem that we are addressing would be fixed.

The joke is on us because the needs are getting bigger.

That there is a need for Oasis to build a larger clinic is a sign that something is not working. Or it is not working for everyone.

There is a stereotype about who uses a free clinic (or a food pantry or an emergency shelter). After eight years of talking to patients, I have concluded that there is no “typical”

Oasis patient. The common thread between our patients is a lack of health insurance and livable wage. We have fishermen, lawyers, musicians, artists, cashiers, baristas, and waitresses. We have fourth generation Mainers, people who are new to the United States, and everyone in between. Some patients struggle with reading while others have graduate degrees. It isn’t hard to imagine myself as an Oasis patient if my life had zigged instead of zagged. That’s likely true for many of us.

We at Oasis believe that health care (and dental, mental health, vision, prescriptions, etc.) is a right, not a privilege. Unfortunately, that is not the prevailing sentiment so we are expanding to meet the growing needs of our community. We are fortunate to have resources and support behind us, and I am grateful for that. But my excitement is muted, tempered by the knowledge that we as a society are OK to let some of our neighbors fall through the cracks, assuming that safety nets like Oasis will be there to catch them.

Anita Ruff is executive director of Oasis Free Clinics, 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 or call (207) 721-9277.


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