If you’ve requested a Maine AllCare bumper sticker in the past year, or Clynk stickers for donating returnables to support MAC, you can thank Susan Sassaman for the neat little packages that have shown up in your mailbox. Susan is, in essence, MAC’s “fulfillment department.”

Portrait of Maine AllCare volunteer Susan Sassman wearing a bright blue jacket with green and trees and a building in the backgroundSusan has been a member of the Ellsworth/MDI chapter and has volunteered with MAC for several years, including entering data, rallying in Augusta, and gathering signatures. She spoke to the town of Bar Harbor in favor of passing a resolution in support of universal, publicly funded health care. She likes being able to contribute to the cause behind the scenes, in her own time, and we’re very grateful for all that she does in support of universal health care for Maine.

We sat down on a beautiful spring day to talk about her background, how she came to this work, and why she feels it’s important.

When Susan was a 20-year-old college student in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Student health services sent her to the university hospital, where doctors, nurses, and physical therapists worked with her daily. She found the physical therapy especially helpful. And because she was in Canada, her care was covered by that country’s national health care system.

She slowly began to recover, and back home in the U.S. went to a local health care facility to continue treatment. Because she’d left school due to her illness and hadn’t enrolled again yet, she did not have health insurance and the only care available to her was at a weekly free clinic. She could get very limited services there, and no physical therapy, which had helped so much in Halifax.

“It just seemed so much less stressful for everybody to know that their basic needs were going to be met, including health.”

The contrast was striking—in Canada, she received excellent care and felt that a health care team worked to help her get better in any way they could. And receiving that care didn’t create a financial burden. But back in the U.S., because she temporarily didn’t have insurance, she couldn’t get the care she needed, and the care she did get felt fragmented. It seemed that no one was really looking out for her well-being.

She doesn’t fault the health care workers here, who are drawn to their professions because they want to serve people, but the system in which we’re all enmeshed. “We’re empathic by nature,” she says, “and we do care for each other, and we want to. But with our current situation, that’s not being allowed, for many reasons.”

She notes that when she was sick during her college days, several decades ago, our health care system was actually somewhat better than it is now. Seeing it get worse and worse—and having experienced a different system—motivated her to try to do something to make our system better.

She’s also witnessed the experiences of friends and family living or spending time in other countries that have some form of universal health care. Her son, for example, lived in Germany for a time, and a friend lived in Scotland.  “It just seemed so much less stressful for everybody to know that their basic needs were going to be met,” she says, “including health.”

When her life circumstances changed and she wanted to start volunteering in her community, health care was an obvious choice. She connected with Maine AllCare through a friend, and learned that Canada’s system started with one province—Saskatchewan—and spread from there to other provinces and then a national system. She realized that “…to start with a state instead of a province … that could be possible.”

She envisions many potential paths to get to universal health care, for Maine and beyond. She observes that we were able to pass a bill to create a universal health care system here, resulting in Public Law 391 in 2021—a monumental achievement. But the law won’t go into effect until action is taken at the federal level, or a work-around is found. So she wonders if there is another way, such as towns and cities creating their own systems rather than waiting for the state or federal government to act.

“I feel this is where my heart is and what I feel most strongly about,” Susan says. “And if there’s any way Maine could be one of the first states to get universal health care, I want to take part and help make it happen.”

—Liz Solet, Maine AllCare communications