Clinic stays open during pandemic

Since 2012, Open Arms Free Clinic has been dedicated to providing access to basic health care, and we are not going to stop now. As medical providers, we are prepared to care for our patients just as any other health care facility.  We may be driven by volunteers, but as public health servants who understand the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors, we will not crumble.  We urge patients  keep those medical appointments already scheduled at Open Arms. Your health is important – physical, mental, and oral health! We are here for you.

We know people living in poverty or without access to healthcare face the greatest risk from this pandemic. We understand the rational for the Governor’s mandate for social isolation, it is a public health measure to reduce the potential for infection so that the major health systems can build up their infrastructure and care for those with serious needs. On a national level, we are working with the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics to acquire treatment medications at the free clinics as one becomes available.  We are following the scientific gold standard of information from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).  On the local level, our leadership team is in constant communication with the Walworth County Health Department and AdvocateAurora Health.  We have a triage protocol if anyone calls or walks in with viral symptoms.  In addition to our standard cleaning and personal safety tools, we are asking our volunteers to use common sense and stay home for 14 days if they have recently traveled internationally or have viral symptoms.  Our patients are vulnerable due to their medical conditions and our elderly volunteers are vulnerable too.  As a community of care providers, we will continue to open our arms to keep us all safe.

Here in this extraordinary time, you likely have started to feel the impacts of COVID‑19 (the coronavirus). You might be changing your routines and taking extra care to stay safe, for yourself and your loved ones. Be calm, be courageous, and be kind.  While you may or may not have enough toilet paper for the extended time at home, remember our community is strong and we need to work together.  Offer to help a family who still needs to report to work yet needs to find a way to homeschool their kids for the next month.  Offer to pick up groceries for a friend if you are immune strong and able.  Check on a neighbor who you know may already feel the loneliness of social isolation.

Thank you in advance for heeding the recommendations of the trusted public health sources, as they have learned best practices since the cholera outbreak (circa 1800s) to the polio outbreak (circa 1950s) and everything else we have heard about in our current lifetime (Influenza, Ebola, SARS, Zika…).  We can do this – together!


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Elkhorn, WI – “A Million Dreams” were realized when Open Arms Free Clinic exceeded their goal of raising $50,000 private donations towards the Delta Dental of Wisconsin Foundation Challenge Grant. The event funds were targeted to expand dental services in Walworth County with a purchase of the dental building (former home of Family Dental Arts) adjacent to their current location.

The 7th Annual Birthday Gala event was held on Friday, December 6, 2019, at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, where a record number of guests bid on over 50 silent auction items, had the opportunity to participate in a cork pull, gift box raffle, paddle raise, and ended the evening with lively dancing to TVK Orchestra. The annual event held on the First Friday of December celebrates the anniversary of treating its first patient on December 6, 2012.

With the purchase of the 6- chair dental clinic, Open Arms will be able to expand the number of patients, expand its qualifying criteria, and have a platform to host qualified dental students pursuing a career in public health dentistry.

“The need for dental services for the poor was realized in 2013 when Lake Geneva hosted over 2,000 county residents receiving free dental care during the Mission of Mercy event sponsored by the Wisconsin Dental Society,” shared Dr. Robert Dillman, Open Arms Dental Director and Event Chair, along with his wife Tina.  Executive Director, Sara Nichols stated, “Ever since Open Arms started dental services in 2015, we knew there were over 30,000 Walworth County residents in need to access dental services. It’s been our dream to gain community support to help us solve this big problem and help our neighbors in need.” Open Arms Free Clinic (OAFC) is the only dental provider in Walworth County that serves people who are low-income, uninsured, and also special populations who have Medicaid insurance.

With over 700 witnesses and community supporters present at the 7th Annual Birthday Gala, Open Arms will be able to move forward on its goals to meet the community needs.  OAFC is a volunteer-driven, donor-supported, community-based non-profit 501C3 organization, with a mission to better understand and serve with compassion the health and wellness needs of the low-income and uninsured residents of Walworth County. For those without the ability to pay, Open Arms Free Clinic is the only clinic of its kind in Walworth County, exclusively dedicated to providing both primary care to all of its patients, as well as supportive care to those with chronic disease. Since treating its first patient in December 2012, there have been close to 3,000 patients served at OAFC with primary and specialty medical, dental, vision, behavioral health, lab and pharmaceutical assistance.

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Open Arms on the Radio

11.8.19 – Thank you WLCO for sharing our story.

Thank you TMJ4!

11/12/19 – Pete Zervakis, Milwaukee’s TMJ4, shared our story as we get ready to celebrate our 7th year since treating our first patient.


Governor Visits the Clinic


Photographed from L: Dennis Skrajewski, WAFCC Executive Director, Karla Tildahl, OAFC Board Member, Governor Tony Evers, Becke Connelly, OAFC Community Relations Coordinator, Secretary Andrea Palm, Jeff Scherer, AOFC Board President, Dr. Robert Fasano, OAFC Medical Director, Cortney Shiroda, OAFC Volunteer Coordinator, Judy Johnson, OAFC Board Member

August 2019


~Impressions by Becke Connelly, Community Relations Coordinator For Open Arms Free Clinic

As we all waited in anticipation of Governor Evers and Secretary Palm’s arrival, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with pride that they had selected OUR clinic to visit out of the two they were touring that day. (10 clinics had been suggested!). With just 3 weeks under my belt as Community Relations Coordinator for the clinic, it was amazing to be witnessing this monumental event. Even though I am new to my position, I have been aware of the clinic since its inception. To have watched it grow since it opened its doors in 2012 to where we are today, it makes being part of the team that much more rewarding. 

From the moment that they arrived, I sensed the sincere interest in our clinic, staff, volunteers, interns and our mission “to better understand and serve with compassion” from the Governor and Secretary.  They seemed to soak in their surroundings along with the words from Father Dan. We greeted them as they walked in with their entourage and began to tell them our story. Fr. Dan Sanders, the clinic’s founder, shared with them the events, dating back to 2011 that led to this moment. 

As we moved into the dental clinic, they inquired about our current structure and services we provide to our patients. Our Dental Coordinator, Mary Beth Egert,  passionately and professionally explained how our clinic operated and our desire to expand. She explained we are limited in our current space and how being able to purchase the dental clinic next to us would open up so many doors. Such doors include being able to care for more patients than we are currently able to treat; bringing on more volunteer and paid dentists and hygienists; beginning a partnership with Marquette University, allowing students to get in the hours they need in order to graduate (which gives us the dentists we need in return). Mary Beth summed it up by saying, “Our goal is to have health, not treat disease”. I sensed this really resonated with the Governor and Secretary. Mary Beth knocked it out of the park!

Southern Lakes Newspaper – August 6, 2019

Continuing the tour, we pointed to our lab, where we are able to run blood tests for a fraction of the cost other labs are able to provide, to the health education room, where Father Dan explained this is where our partners consult with patients about nutrition education, financial counseling and assisting with health insurance. This room is also used on Thursdays for medication pick up.

Next was a visit to our Dispensary Room, it was so cool to watch the Governor and Secretary actually walk in and chat with our team including Pharmacy Director Bill Clark, a Founding Board Member and volunteer pharmacist. They were able to share with them that we have over 200 meds in stock, many of them free to us from pharmaceutical programs for patient assistance, and how we have dispensed over $2,000,000 worth of life-saving medications to our patients.

Because of the engagement, we were a bit behind schedule, which I took as a good thing, and I got the “we have 10 minutes left” from one of the Governor’s staff, so we quickly looked in on the vision, echo and counseling rooms before moving into the conference room, where some of OAFC board members were waiting. Home-baked goodies, (which both the Governor and Secretary took some with for the ride back to Madison), were brought in by Judy Johnson, a founding board members and champion fundraiser. We all sat and had a conversation about health care, the need for further funding for clinics such as ours and the immediate need for better dental care in our county. Listening to the discussion, I was humbled by the genuine compassion displayed by the members of the board. Knowing each and every one of them is a volunteer only solidified my beliefs in OAFC and our mission. At the conclusion of our visit, (which went well past the 10-minute mark), Judy presented both Governor Evers and Secretary Palm our clinic’s symbolic dove pins, and was beaming with pride as they graciously accepted them.

On our way out for a photo op, Governor Evers shook the hand of one of our patients, words truly cannot describe the look of awe on the patient’s face.  My eyes quickly filled as it was such a genuine moment and I was there witness to it!

As we waved goodbye to the group, the feeling of pride was overwhelming, as was the fact that the need for affordable or free medical treatment is real. My prayer is The Governor, Secretary and others in Madison understand it is real as well.

To learn more about the Wisconsin State Oral Health Program  Click Here

Gazette 8.9.19_EVERS visits OAFC


Dental Program Expansion – Launching Support

Lake Geneva Regional News – 5.9.2019

By Scott Williams

Click for Story

ELKHORN — Open Arms Free Clinic has announced plans to open a dentist clinic that would allow the nonprofit health care provider to extend dental care to thousands of more people in Walworth County.

Expected to open by early next year, the new clinic in Elkhorn will provide free dental care to qualified adults and children who either have no insurance or are under-insured.

Open Arms has struck a deal with an existing dental clinic — located next door to Open Arms — to purchase the property and convert it into a new nonprofit dental care center capable of serving six patients at a time.

Sara Nichols, executive director of Open Arms, said the opening of a full-size dentist clinic represents the culmination of years of planning within her organization and its supporters.

“It’s humongous,” she said. “It’s a major pillar in the foundation of our entire organization.”

Open Arms, which was established in 2012, operates a full-service clinic at 205 E. Commerce Court, where low-income and uninsured Walworth County residents can receive free medical care.

Dental care is provided, but strictly on a part-time basis that cannot reach everyone in need, which includes more than 7,000 children who never see a dentist because they lack proper insurance.

Bob Dillman, one of the dentists who volunteer at Open Arms, said he participated a few years ago in a traveling free clinic that stopped in Lake Geneva. The temporary charitable effort in two days attracted 2,000 patients seeking help with their dental needs — signalling a significant need.

Dillman said he looks forward to seeing low-income and uninsured people become regular new patients at the Open Arms clinic.

“It will be an awesome opportunity to provide a dental home for people,” he said.

Open Arms separately has struck a deal with the dental school at Marquette University in Milwaukee to use the new Elkhorn clinic as a site for dental students to complete the internship requirements of their training.

Open Arms is hosting its annual golf tournament June 4 to raise funds, with a special appeal going out to donors for help defraying the costs of the new dentist clinic. Nichols said she anticipates needing $475,000 to acquire the clinic property, plus another $300,000 to purchase equipment and $500,000 a year to operate the new center.

Now known as Family Dental Arts, the existing clinic at 209 E. Commerce Court announced last year that it was planning to relocate to new facilities to be built on an adjoining site. The estimated 3,000-square-foot building being vacated was built about 25 years ago.

Chad Greving, owner of Family Dental Arts, said he was happy to work with Open Arms after Nichols and her colleagues inquired about the availability of the soon-to-be-vacant property.

Open Arms has always been a good next-door neighbor, Greving said, and officials there seem to have a solid plan for creating a new training ground for Marquette University students while reaching an under-served population of low-income and uninsured dental patients.

“That’s a win-win,” he said. “It could really turn out great.”

Family Dental Arts hopes to move out of its existing clinic by the end of 2019.

Nichols said she was surprised by the lucky coincidence of Open Arms moving into its current headquarters in 2015, and now finding a dental clinic property available right next door just a few years later.

“When it’s the right time, the right things happen,” she said.

Open Arms recorded 5,700 patient visits last year for medical, vision, counseling, laboratory and other needs. The facility operates with a staff of 10 workers, plus a large group of volunteers, and a network of financial supporters.

Dental care generally is provided twice a week either in Elkhorn or another site in Williams Bay, although the number of patients served could be greater with the right facilities.

The new nonprofit dental center will be geared toward a Walworth County population of about 30,000 people who live in poverty — roughly one-third of the county. That includes about 13,000 adults and children who live on Medicaid, and another 8,000 who have no insurance at all.

Most dentists will not accept Medicaid patients, because the government reimbursement rate is so low.

Jackie Spielman, a Delavan resident who found herself struggling after her husband died four years ago, said she could not afford health insurance and she could not find doctors or dentists to help her. When she discovered Open Arms, she said, she found compassionate care that instilled her with new hope.

“It changed me completely,” she said. “It truly feels like a family.”

Volunteer Appreciation Week 2019

April 8, 2019 – Open Arms Free Clinic Volunteer Appreciation Event, Abbey Springs, Fontana, WI.

Is it really Spring already? It feels like we had the perfect time celebrating our amazing volunteers. Delicious food, a gorgeous day, I couldn’t have ordered a more perfect evening!

As I was walking around the party taking pictures, it became clear that the clinic has become a place for diverse people to come together to take care of their community, and in doing so, each other. The impact on the patients and community cannot be overstated. Sara Nichols did an excellent job of acknowledging the thousands of hours donated, and I can only add my voice to chorus of thank-yous that fall short of showing their true appreciation for what you do. I also was struck, though, by how much the you were caring for one another. Talking, laughing, sharing stories, it was all building each other up. You care for the people around you in any way they need, whether it’s a kind word in the exam room or a funny pose at the photo booth.

Personally, I have felt so welcomed by the people I have met. We have shared stories in the kitchen, recipes at the nurses station, and heartache in the back where no one can see. Thank you for being friends, teachers, and confidants.

I hope that whether you were at the dinner or not, you know that you are appreciated. You are a Lifesaver!


Kate Smith

Community Relations Coordinator

Recruit your family and friends at our Ways to Help page so they can become a Lifesaver too!


Advocacy Day 2019

Wisconsin Free & Charitable Clinics Advocacy Day (April 4, 2019)

~ Impressions by Kate Smith, OAFC Community Relations Coordinator

With a lot of talk about the federal government, it can be easy to forget the real impact our state government can have. There are a lot of important bills and amendments at stake right here in Wisconsin that are so much more important than the latest tweets. I perhaps did not realize how important state legislation was until I participated in the Wisconsin Association of Free & Charitable Clinics Annual Advocacy Day on Thursday, April 4, 2019.

On Advocacy Day, leaders and supporters of free and charitable clinics sit down with their state representatives to let them know how upcoming legislative changes affect the patients, residents, and clinics in their districts. A few of our members, including Sara Nichols, are pros at explaining the significant impact a representative’s support can make in the daily lives of their constituents. As a total newbie, I watched as my group deftly conversed with the people who would help decide the future of our state.

It impressed me how confident and persuasive they were, and I realized that, like always, they were simply being honest about the effects of the new legislation and how much they cared about the outcome. Being surrounded by a group of people so fervently fighting for their patients in their respective clinics was both electrifying and humbling, as it made me want to fight alongside them and learn from them all at the same time.

While there were several issues we discussed that day, the most important piece of legislation was the expansion of the Medicaid Dental Expansion Pilot. The pilot was run in four different counties and included a 43% reimbursement rate (as opposed to the normal 21%). Three of the four counties did not experience much success; the private dentists agreed to take Medicaid patients if it was an emergency and did not advertise at all. As a result, there was very little increase in services performed for those on Medicaid. However, the pilot was extremely successful in Brown County. The dental clinic in Brown County seized the opportunity and coordinated with private dentists to see 4,000 additional patients! I cannot stress enough what an impact that has made on the population. The success of the pilot was largely due to the ability of the community-based non-profit dental clinic to realize the potential that extra 40 cents to the dollar could make and their skill at putting that little bit of extra money to use.

Currently, there are approximately 30,000 Walworth County residents who are living at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (Source: 2014-2016 Wisconsin Family Health Survey, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Division of Public Health, Office of Health Informatics). As of the most recent statistics for insurance status in Walworth County, there are approximately 8,000 residents who do not have health insurance, there are 7,100 children enrolled in Medicaid, and 6,378 adults enrolled in Medicaid. There are 12,000 Medicare beneficiaries and 5,646 Veterans living in Walworth County. Currently, the majority of these folks MUST travel outside of the county in order to find a dentist who will treat them.

If the Medicaid Dental Reimbursement pilot was expanded to include clinics state-wide, OAFC would be able to serve and sustain dental services for the the underinsured with a ratio of 70% Medicaid and 30% Uninsured. Now that is something to smile about!

This was the message we were trying to communicate to our representatives at the capitol. There were certainly mixed results, with some individuals clearly seeing the potential of the program while others apathetically nodded their heads. It was difficult to see some people not “get it”, when the need seems so obvious to me, but talking with people who did understand and were supporting our needs was very encouraging.

Emotionally the day felt like a roller-coaster. Excitement to meet our government officials, awe of the beautiful capitol building, disillusion with the intent of the representatives, and finally hope that some people are working very hard to take care of their constituents.

I wrestled with all of these feelings in the car on my way out of Madison. The radio was spouting predictions on the governor’s budget, and it struck me that I was just in the midst of the very events behind the news stories. I hoped that our small conversations had an impact, and that sometime soon I would hear of how the State of Wisconsin was at the forefront of Free and Charitable Clinic support.

So talk to your representatives! Give them a call, send them a letter! They are real people who deserve to know the people they are representing. Tell them how they can support OAFC through these small changes or let them know how a free and charitable clinic has made an impact in your life.


Kate Smith

If you would like to find your state representatives, click here. If you would like to find out more about Open Arms Free Clinic, visit our About Us page.

Volunteer Appreciation Week

Check out our latest eNewsletter: 

Celebrating a Life of Service

March 15, 2019 – Happy Birthday, Bea!

Retirement for some people means the end of work and the beginning of a life of leisure.  But for others, retirement is simply an extension of their passion and purpose in a different context.  To them, work is a lifelong expression of their love for their vocation and their love for people. 

Bea Schauer, age 91, is someone who’s life purpose and passion has found expression here at Open Arms since 2012.  Trained as a nurse in the early 1940’s, Bea has had a career in medicine that extends over a seventy year period.  She served as a nurse at Mercy hospital in Janesville until 1953 when she began raising eight children along with her husband on a farm west of Delavan.  After twelve years, she returned to a 30-year nursing career with Aurora that lasted until 1995.  But even after completing her official work with Aurora, she continued on as a Spanish speaking volunteer interpreter for the hospital system, visiting various clinics throughout the area whenever there was a need. 

Bea’s love for people and her bilingual abilities were nurtured at an early age.  Her parents emigrated from Mexico and settled in Fon Du Lac where Bea was born.  She was one of eleven children and was raised in a family that valued hard work and love.  At ten years of age, she was working with her family in the sugar beet fields!  Her parents expected all the kids to be successful at whatever they did- a value that encouraged she and three of her sisters to pursue nurses training after high school.  

Having been raised in a Mexican family, Bea has always had a love for people from Spanish speaking cultures- especially those who do not know English.  Finding and receiving good healthcare can be a fearful experience for anyone coming from another country.  Bea has been able to not only interpret medical things between doctor and patient at Open Arms, she has also been able to comfort and encourage patients so that they feel at ease through the process.  And going beyond interpreting in the exam room, she also ensures that the patients follow up with prescriptions and setting the next appointment.  To the staff, Bea is the Clinic’s mom.  She is always busy, helping and doing things that go beyond the job description of “interpreter.”  

Open Arms is blessed to have Bea come to the clinic every Tuesday and Thursday.  She both brightens the day and provides a sense of peace to all who work with her or who are served by her.  And Bea is blessed each week to continue her life’s passion and purpose with people who need and value her skills and love.