Lauren Farago, dental assistant at Oasis Free Clinic, with a patient. Contributed / Anita Ruff

Oasis Free Clinic in Brunswick will use $833,000 in federal funds to add space for mental health counseling and group therapy, both of which are new services, along with additional dental and medical exam rooms.

Oasis is looking to double the footprint of the 2,000-square-foot clinic and bring on more volunteer dentists, clinicians and counselors.

There is a small office space now used for counseling, but “since the pandemic, our patients’ need for mental health services has increased significantly,” Executive Director Anita Ruff said.

The funding would cover about 70% of the cost of the project, Ruff said. She could not provide a firm figure for the project due to ongoing supply chain issues.

“We’ve never received federal funding, so our organization has had to run on the generosity of our community members,” Ruff said.

Oasis, which is the largest free clinic in Maine, offers medical care to about 500 low-income and uninsured residents in the Midcoast, including Brunswick, Harpswell, Freeport, Durham and Sagadahoc County according to Ruff. That number is close to those served at the start of 2020, but after a dip to 337 patients in 2021.


According the United Health Foundation, 8% of Mainers were not insured in 2019, down from about 10% in 2010, likely due in part to the expansion of Medicaid and MaineCare in the state.

Ruff emphasized the importance of understanding that “not everyone has access to health insurance,” even those who are employed.

“We have worked hard to let people know about our services, knowing that there are plenty of folks who could use them but were not accessing them,” she said.

“While we wish we weren’t needed, our goal is to provide the highest level of care in a respectful environment,” Ruff said. “Our patients are very hard working and many of them have two or three jobs.” 

The clinic’s volunteer dental director, Dr. Rick Elsaesser, said the current facility has “a massive space issue.”

“We’ve grown outside of our space and we’re on top of each other,” he said.


Elsaesser said he hopes to expand the number of paid hygienists at the clinic and create a partnership with the Biddeford-based University of New England Dental School.

“The dental need in our community is overwhelming,” he said. “We could be open seven days a week and we would still struggle to scratch the surface, but this is a small step in meeting that need.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the clinic had a core group of about 14 dental volunteers, but only six now remain. Many left during the pandemic because of the high risk of being exposed to the virus during dental procedures, Elsaesser said.

Oasis has updated its ventilation system to increase the air exchange and has better personal protection equipment to more effectively guard providers against COVID.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, requested funding for Free Clinics Expansion in the fiscal year 2023 Health and Human Services funding bill, according to a prepared release from her office. The funds will likely be accessible some time in 2023.

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