In 2016, we renovated space at 66 Baribeau Drive in the Mid Coast Professional Building, bringing together both of our medical and dental services under one roof for the first time in our 25-year history. Our medical clinic had been located on the top floor of 66 Baribeau for several years. However, we had been using donated space in the basement of the Jessie Albert Clinic in Bath for 10 years. Two evenings a month, our volunteer dentists and dental assistants would roll out instruments in Craftsman toolboxes in order to provide free dental care to Oasis patients.

When our volunteers talk about that time, they sound like weary soldiers home from the trenches. They talk of using photographic x-rays (vs digital), waiting 20 minutes for the images to develop before they could read them and determine the course of treatment. They talk about how their colleagues don’t need to go to developing countries to see severe dental problems; there are plenty of people in Midcoast Maine who experience some of the worst oral health issues that most only read about in text books. Some of our dentists talk about working late into the evening because once they started working on a patient, they uncovered problem after problem, almost all of which could have been prevented if the patient had access to dental hygiene and regular care.

When we had the opportunity to build our own dental clinic and combine it with our medical clinic, we didn’t hesitate. We knew that our patients would benefit from having their primary care provider down the hall from their dentist and vice versa. And we were right. There have been many times since 2016 that the dental team has asked for a medical consultation, and within minutes, a provider has been there, providing assistance. Likewise, our medical providers routinely refer our patients to the dental clinic.

Here is an example of why having an integrated medical and dental clinic makes a difference. Recently, our dental hygienist had a patient in her chair for the first time. As part of her examination, she conducts an oral cancer assessment. For this patient, a longtime tobacco user, she determined he was at high risk for developing oral cancer. She told the patient that his risk was high and advised him that quitting tobacco would be a good first step. He told her that he was ready to quit and wanted to talk with someone immediately. The hygienist left the exam room, walked down the hall, and asked our staff nurse practitioner if she was available to discuss smoking cessation with the patient at the end of his appointment. The nurse practitioner had an opening in her schedule and spent 30 minutes talking with the patient and connecting him to the Maine Quitline. Because our clinics were connected, we were able to identify the patient’s problem and connect him with help when he was motivated to make a change. He is more likely to stick with his decision to quit using tobacco now.

Since May 2016, we have provided over $1.3 million in free dental services and almost $1.5 million in free medical care to our patients. While that is extraordinary, what is even more exciting is the tremendous impact we have had with our patients. We have offered our patients one place to receive their care, often trying to book both medical and dental appointments in the same visit to reduce the number of trips they have to make to the clinic. We have built trusted relationships with our patients, listening to their needs and meeting them where they are their medical and dental path. Our patients know that our volunteers and staff work at Oasis because we believe in community and service, as well as the belief that everyone should have access to compassionate, respectful care.

It is hard to believe that five years has already gone by in our “new” clinic. And still, there are ways for us to expand and grow to meet the changing needs of our community. We are excited and honored to be here for our patients, as we look forward to the future and what lies ahead.

Anita Ruff is the executive director of Oasis Free Clinics a non-profit, no-cost primary care medical practice and dental clinic, providing patient-centered care to uninsured adults in Midcoast, Maine. For more information, call 721-9277 or visit Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community. 

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