Gayle Hays (center) with UnitedHealthcare of New England CEO Mary Snyder and former star quarterback Doug Flutie on June 30. Photo contributed by Gayle Hays

From the time she was a young girl growing up on a New Gloucester dairy farm, Gayle Hays was always taking care of something, whether it was a feral cat or a sickly calf. For nearly 50 years, she worked at Brunswick’s Regional Memorial and Mid Coast Hospitals as a nurse and clinical computer specialist.

After a lifetime of service to others, Hays would have been justified in taking some time to take care of herself after her 2019 retirement. But another calling would emerge for the Bailey Island resident in the form of a global pandemic that targeted the most vulnerable among us.

On June 30, Hays traveled to Gillette Stadium to receive UnitedHealthcare of New England’s “Champions” award for her volunteer efforts to help Midcoast Mainers access the COVID-19 vaccine. Just six recipients earned the title of “Champion,” which is awarded to New Englanders over 65 who “make extraordinary contributions to the health and well-being of their communities.”

Though Hays prefers to downplay her efforts, those who have seen her in action say she deserves the attention.

“For a woman who’s supposed to be retired, this woman is all over the community just doing wonderful things,” said Lili Ott, co-chair of Harpswell Aging at Home, a nonprofit where Hays has volunteered for the past five years. “Gayle is the real deal.”

When the Mid Coast Hospital needed volunteers for its vaccination clinic at the Brunswick Recreation Center, Hays’ mind flashed to 1918, when her pregnant grandmother came down with the Spanish flu. Doctors told Hays’ grandfather that his wife and their baby had nearly died.


“Part of my wanting to help with COVID is that I didn’t want people to have to go through what my grandmother went through,” Hays said. “When the COVID vaccine came out and I heard that they were hunting for volunteers to vaccinate, I immediately said, ‘I want to do this.’”

She joined the hundreds of volunteers who collectively spent more than 10,000 hours staffing the clinic at the recreation center during the first half of 2021. According to Mid Coast Hospital, the clinic has provided over 55,000 doses of the COVID vaccine.

The vaccine can reduce the risk of COVID-related hospitalization by 94%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gayle Hays volunteers at the vaccination clinic at the Brunswick Recreation Center on Feb. 20, 2021 Photo contributed by Lili Ott


Yet Hays, who regularly works with older adults as Harpswell Aging at Home’s Health and Wellness chair, quickly realized that many of the people most needed the vaccine were struggling with the online booking system.

“When you’re dealing with the 20-,30-, 40-year-old generations, they are very conversant with the technology,” said Harpswell Aging at Home co-chair Jerry Klepner. “That’s not the same for people who are in their seventies and eighties.”


Tapping into her extensive connections in the local healthcare and volunteer network, Hays passed out her name and contact information along with a simple message: if someone needs help, send them to me.

“I called every nonprofit in Harpswell,” she remembered. “I called the town office, talked with as many friends and neighbors as I could about how to sign up. I put my name out just about everywhere.”

Soon calls were coming in from Newcastle to Cape Elizabeth and everywhere in between. Though she didn’t track everyone she assisted, Hays says she helped set up appointments for more than 80 Mainers between February and April 2021.

Sometimes, she provided the vaccine herself at the clinic. Otherwise, she followed up over the phone to make sure patients hadn’t missed their appointments.

“She was like this one-woman vaccination band,” said Ott, who received her shot from Hays. “She saw it from beginning to end.”

Ott and Klepner nominated Hays for the title of UnitedHealthcare Champion, which eventually resulted in her June trip to Foxborough, where she got the chance to meet former NFL quarterback Doug Flutie.


To Oasis Free Clinics Executive Director Anita Ruff, whose organization will receive a $5,000 donation in Hays’ name as part of the award, celebrating Hays and her work is an important part of encouraging others to follow in her footsteps.

“When we collectively as a community see those neighbors helping neighbors, it hopefully reinforces that this is the kind of community we want to live in,” she said. “It inspires people to want to do something for their neighbor.”

But Hays, who is already fielding questions from her neighbors about newly-available COVID-19 booster shots, is more than ready to cede the spotlight so that she can return to doing what she always has: taking care of others.

“I don’t do it for recognition,” she said. I do this work because I really enjoy it, and it feeds me.”

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