LAREDO, Texas — Low-income families residing in the colonias inside Webb County were able to access free services by military doctors, nurses, opticians and other personnel during Operation Health and Wellness in June.
The colonias are the impoverished, relatively undeveloped villages on the U.S. side of the Texas-Mexico border where Webb County is located.
Through the Operation Health and Wellness program, participants obtained different benefits. For the soldiers, it meant training on equipment and with people; and, for the beneficiaries it meant having access to services that are not financially accessible for them, like medical check-ups, eye exams, and dental work.
“I’ve done similar medical clinics in Iraq,” U.S. Army Sgt. Ruben Carlos Solomon said. “The activity was a lot more dangerous there. Everyone here is very supportive. People from the area have brought food out and expressed their support for the program. It’s been a very positive experience.”
Oscar J. Muñoz, Colonias Program director Texas A&M University, said that in some cases physicians were able to find a more risky health issue.
“One resident came in for just a checkup and one of the doctors detected a heart murmur,” said Muñoz. “He was referred to a nearby clinic for further examination.”
Muñoz said a federally funded community health center in Laredo agreed to serve those patients needing a follow-up with little or no cost.
Juanita Martínez, a 64-year old Santa Teresita resident, was thankful. She was able to see more clearly after receiving a pair of reading glasses. “I’ve never seen this much help for us before,” said Martinez. “There are a lot of us who don’t have the means to pay for a doctor. If this could be done once a year, that would really help us a lot.”
The Texas A&M Colonias Program has been operating since 1991, and it serves nearly a million residents every year through 42 resource centers, creating sustainable solutions to local challenges.
According to Texas A&M Today, the goal is to increase residents’ abilities to become self-sufficient, enhancing the overall quality of life for the individual and for the community.
The social service providers are known as “promotoras” and they help to provide “a wide array of social programs such as educational services, dropout prevention and literacy, graduate equivalency and job training and referrals, vital health and human services, and economic and community development assistance.”
The Operation Health and Wellness was a collaboration between the Texas A&M Colonias Program and the U.S. Army Reserve and Navy and took place in the U.S. Army Reserve Center at Laredo Community College. The medical team included student volunteers from Texas A&M Corpus Christi College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Texas A&M International University, and Texas A&M Health Science Center.