BRUNSWICK, Maine — Madeline Toothaker Morrison lost her health insurance after becoming ill several years ago and suddenly couldn’t afford regular visits to her doctor.
Morrison, 61, then learned about Oasis Free Clinics, where she saw Dr. Jeffrey Maher and physician assistant Andree Appel. Morrison said Tuesday that the two saved her life.
“It’s like I came up out of the dead,” she said. “They got my pre-diabetes under control, they helped my heart, got my medications and my cholesterol under control, I started taking vitamins and now, boy, I feel great!”
“I didn’t know I was in a danger zone for a heart attack and stroke,” Morrison said. “They put me on [an antidepressant] and it helped a lot. I didn’t know I had a chemical imbalance. I’m just grateful for all the help I’ve been given.”
Sitting next to his wife on Tuesday, Thomas Morrison, 58, began to cry.
“If it wasn’t for them, I would’ve lost my wife,” he said. “Oasis helped her a lot. When she was sick I would call Oasis and talk to the receptionist and Dr. Andree would say, ‘I want to see her,’ and I’d take her in. Dr. Andree is awful nice. She talks to me on the phone. Whoever I speak to is awful nice. I’m very blessed.”
Founded in 1995, Oasis Free Clinics expanded several years ago from one night per week to a full-service clinic, where a team of more than 60 volunteer physicians, dentists and nurses provide free health care eight hours per day, five days per week.
Between 500 and 600 low-income, uninsured patients from nine communities receive comprehensive health care — acute, chronic and preventative — and free or reduced-cost prescriptions from the nonprofit organization.
In May, even as other free clinics in the state shut their doors for various reasons, Oasis will expand again, bringing its 11-year-old dental care clinic under the same roof as the medical clinic and, its leaders hope, adding daytime hours to the existing evening care.
Through a grant from the Next Generation Foundation of Maine (Corbin would only say the grant was “by far the largest we’ve ever received”), the clinic also will hire a part-time dental assistant and expects to expand upon the more than $134,000 in free dental services provided last year to 166 patients.
Dental disease contributes to a number of medical conditions, including poor nutrition for patients who lose teeth, according to Dr. Richard Corbin, medical director of Oasis.
“The most profound thing is, it interferes with people’s lives,” he said. “It’s very difficult to get a job with poor dental status.”
Unlike other free clinics that have closed because they couldn’t sustain a pool of volunteers to keep them going, Corbin said Oasis is thriving, with a total of 4,300 hours of volunteer service last year.
“As a matter of fact, we can’t use all the volunteers we have,” he said.
Oasis was started with and is still funded through individual donations, grants and the United Way and accepts no state or federal funding, which executive director Anita Ruff said is part of the reason Oasis is thriving rather than shutting down like other free clinics.
“It’s because we’re not reliant on government funding,” she said. “There hasn’t been that layer of bureaucracy. The organization has put its resources into quality care and the prescription program.”
While some donations reach tens of thousands of dollars, Huff said the clinic “is built on the backbone of donors who give $100 each year.”
Morrison now visits the clinic every three months to manage her illnesses.
“Don’t be afraid to come,” she said. “These people are very caring. … They will help you, no matter what situation you’re in, they will help you, and they do care about you.”