|SAN JUAN, July 23 - In previous years, some Rio Grande Valley residents have slept out overnight at PSJA ISD in order to take advantage of free medical services made available through Operation Lone Star.
The same thing is almost certainly guaranteed this year because free dental services are being offered. That has never happened at PSJA before.
“We are very excited to be offering free dental services. We are sure the demand will be great,” said Sulema Flores, health services director at PSJA. “In previous years we have had people sleep outside the school waiting for the services. Knowing that this year we have advertised dental we might have the same situation again. It shows there is a great need in this community for healthcare services.”
Flores said PSJA will have a sheltered area outside for those who want to sleep outside at night and wait for the doors to open the following morning. She said security will be on hand and water and toiletries will be made available.
Operation Lone Star (OLS) is an annual joint military and civil humanitarian medical mission that takes place every summer along the Texas-Mexico border. Remote Area Medical will provide free dental and vision services.
Operation Lone Star 2013 starts on Monday at locations in San Juan, Brownsville, Mission, Rio Grande City and Laredo. It finishes next Friday. It is incredibly popular because for many people it is their one and only visit to a doctor all year. No questions are asked as the residency status or income level of those seeking medical help. It is available to young and old alike. It is simply a case of first come, first served.
OLS is now in its 15th year. It is collaborative project that unites federal, state and local health and human services agencies, including U.S. and Texas military forces, local service groups and volunteers. It is reported to be the largest public health humanitarian effort in the nation.
OLS also serves as a drill for the military and first responders. It allows for disaster recovery training while also serving thousands of underserved and underinsured residents in a real-life, real-time, crisis scenario. The program also provides epidemiologists a great opportunity to gather data on the South Texas border population so that public health can be delivered in a better fashion.
More than 300 military staff members, over 200 state and county employees and countless volunteers give of their time and talents to make OLS a reality. Last year, 34,527 medical services were provided to 6,783 people.
Flores pointed out that the medical services provided through OLS include immunizations, blood pressure checks, diabetes screening, hearing and vision exams, medical evaluations, a sports physical checkup for students, preventative health education, social service program information, mental health services, and (at PSJA only) dental services.
Flores said she was particularly struck last year by the impact diabetes screening had. “It impacted me greatly seeing how many were diagnosed there on the site. They have been living with diabetes and the complications from diabetes but had no idea they had it. We saw it last year. We had some tremendous doctors from the community donate some equipment, expensive equipment, so they could have the testing done onsite. Because of that we had patients diagnosed onsite, several, for the first time,” Flores said.
An improvement to OLS this year, Flores said, is that eye glasses will be made on the spot for patients, once the optometrists have tested a patient’s eyesight and written out a prescription. The eyeglasses are top quality and absolutely free, she added.
OLS will take place at PSJA High School, 805 W. Ridge Road, in San Juan from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, July 29 to Thursday,, Aug. 1, and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 2. It will also operate on the same days and during the same hours at Palmview High School, 3901 N. La Homa Road, in Mission.
Eduardo Olivarez, who heads the health and human services department for Hidalgo County, is a big supporter of Operation Lone Star. “Disasters don’t discriminate and because of efforts like Operation Lone Star, Texas and this county stand ready to face any emergency, before, during and after it happens,” Olivarez said.
OLS originally started in the Rio Grande Valley but is now in its 7th year in Laredo. The Department of State Health Services, other Health and Human Services agencies, Texas Joint Military Forces, City of Laredo Health Department, Doctors Hospital of Laredo, Specialty Hospital and Laredo Medical Center, other health care providers, Laredo Independent School District, United Independent School District, Laredo Health Coalition, Laredo Community College, Texas A&M International University, Mercy Ministries, Mid Rio Grande Border Area Health Education Center, and many community volunteers work together on the program in Laredo.
“Operation Lone Star provides an opportunity for people to get good, basic preventive health care and learn what they can do to help prevent future health problems,” said Dr. Hector F. Gonzalez, director of Health for the City of Laredo.
OLS will run at Washington Middle School, 10306 Riverbank Drive, Laredo, from Monday, July 29, through Friday, August 2, Gonzalez said.