SAN JUAN, Texas – From Monday, July 25, to Saturday, July 30, the Texas Health and Human Services will carry out Operation Border Health/Preparedness (OBHP).
OBHP is a program that sets up sites around the Rio Grande Valley, offering residents free health services. Services include general physician services, immunizations, screenings, sport physicals, dental services, vision services, and more.
Although assisting the public in maintaining their health is a goal of OBHP, the underlying purpose is to assist the community in preparing for disasters.
State Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said Operation Border Health Preparedness allows state, local, and nonprofit entities to practice setting up and operating health clinics that may be needed in the case of a public health emergency, while providing free care to the community.
He said services include medical exams, immunizations for children and adults, sports physicals for students, health and diabetes screenings, and dental and vision exams.
“Operation Border Health Preparedness is a great example of a smart policy that not only ensures we are prepared for future public health crises, but also provides an immediate public benefit in the process,” Hinojosa said.
“Just last year, these clinics provided over 21,000 health services to nearly 5,000 people. Healthcare is a critical need for South Texas residents, and I hope every resident needing these services goes to one of these clinics to get this free care.”
OBHP was formerly known as Operation Lone Star (OLS) but underwent a name change this year to “more closely pattern what we (they) do in the event,” according to a Texas Department of Health and Human Services press release. In March 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott adopted the name Operation Lone Star for his response to the immigration situation on the border, even though OBHP had been an ongoing mission in Texas for 22 years. It was felt Abbott’s use of the term “Operation Lone Star” to push his immigration policies could cause confusion among Texas residents seeking healthcare services under the summer program.
Amber Arriaga-Salinas of Proyecto Azteca says there is a big difference between Gov. Abbott’s Operation Lone Star and the summer healthcare program that used to go by the same name. “The negative rhetoric being pushed by Governor Abbott on the border community is very dangerous,” she said, while OBHP is a “tremendous resource to the RGV.” She said: “When people outside this region hear the word ‘border,’ they may think money is being spent on the ‘invasion’ politicians use for soundbites without considering the real issues border residents face.”
One of the “real issues” Arriaga-Salinas mentions is Texas’s failure to expand Medicaid, which perpetuates the “poverty in a medically underserved region.” Arriaga-Salinas is not the only one who claims the RGV is medically underserved, as Leonel Vela from the Office of Border Public Health states there “is a lot of need for medical and dental services in our area (the RGV).” OBHP helps to address this need by offering various health services to the community for free. Thus, it is critical for those within and outside the RGV to understand Operation Border Health/Preparedness is not the same as the modern Operation Lone Star.
Volunteers, health groups, local organizations, and their collaboration are what make OBHP a success. Both Vela and Arriaga-Salinas think the RGV steps up to the plate when called to organize and work together. Arriaga-Salinas says “all of the organizations do talk to each other” and “everyone sort of pitches in.” In Proyecto Azteca’s monthly meetings, non-profit organizations and other health groups showcase the RGV’s ability to effectively communicate and work with each other. Vela claims that “when a need is seen, we have people that are willing to help.” He describes OBHP as a “win-win situation” as the event offers free health services to RGV residents and offers an opportunity to gain more hands-on experience to those in the medical field.
By participating in OBHP, local organizations collaborate and organize Points of Distribution, or PODs, around the RGV to provide health services to residents. “The set up (of PODs) and what we do at the event is to familiarize first responders in the structure of the Incident Command System and how that process works in a real-time event,” says Vela. OBHP is good practice in the event a disaster strikes the RGV, as organizations and providers would already be experienced in collaborating and setting up PODs. For this year’s OBHP there will be six PODs, with two sites in Cameron County. All other counties, which include Hidalgo, Starr, Webb, and Willacy, will have one site. The sites will mostly operate from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and mostly from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.
The two sites in Cameron County are located at the Harlingen School of Health Professions, on 2302 N. 21st Street, Harlingen, and at the James Pace Early College High School, on 314 W. Los Ebanos Boulevard, Brownsville. General physician services, immunizations for children and adults, diabetic, hearing, vision, and blood pressure screenings, sports physicals, tobacco cessation services, social services, and behavioral health services will be offered at the Cameron County locations.
Hidalgo County’s site, which is located at the PSJA Early College High School on 805 West Ridge Road in San Juan, will only operate from Monday to Friday. The site for Hidalgo County will be the only site to close on 2 p.m. on Friday instead of 3:30 p.m. General physician services, immunizations for children and adults, diabetic, hearing, vision, and blood pressure screenings, sports physicals, dental services (which includes cleanings, fillings, and extractions), and vision exams for prescriptions for children and adults will be offered at the PSJA Early College High School. Free pre-packaged breakfasts and lunches will be served to children ages one to eighteen attending the event, courtesy of the PSJA ISD Child Nutrition Program. Breakfast will be served from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and lunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Area Agency on Aging, the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, the University of Texas Medical Branch, the Food Bank, and Nuestra Clinica Del Valle are also part of the event.
The Starr County site is located at the AC2E Elementary School on 1 S. Fort Ringgold Street, Rio Grande City. General physician services, immunizations for children and adults, diabetic, hearing, vision, and blood pressure screenings, sports physicals, dental services for children and adults, vision exams for children and adults, social services, behavioral health services, nutritional education, car seat safety inspections and education, and tobacco cessation services will be offered at the AC2E Elementary School. The City of Roma, La Casita Fire Department, La Grulla Volunteer Fire Department, Texas A&M University Students, Unidos Contra la Diabetes (UCD), and Lions Clubs International are partners of the event.
The Webb County site is located at the Lyndon B. Johnson 9th Grade Campus on 5511 St. Luke Boulevard, Laredo. General physician services, immunizations for children and adults, diabetic, hearing, vision, and blood pressure screenings, school and sports physicals, preventative dental services for pre-school and school aged children, social services, behavioral health services, nutritional education, and tobacco cessation services will be offered at the Lyndon B. Johnson 9th Grade Campus.
The Willacy County site is located at the Raymondville High School on 601 FM 3168, Raymondville. General physician services, immunizations for children and adults, diabetic, hearing, vision, and blood pressure screenings, school and sports physicals, preventative dental services for pre-school and school age children, preventative veterinary services for cats and dogs (including vaccinations), social services, behavioral health services, nutritional education, car seat safety inspections and education, and tobacco cessation services will be offered at the Raymondville High School. Snacks and lunch will be provided to those attending the event by the Salvation Army, with Loaves and Fishes providing lunch to staff and volunteers. Raymondville ISD, Willacy County OEM, Wesley Nurses, TSTC students, and the Texas A&M University and Veterinary Emergency Response are also part of the event.
OBHP is, as Arriaga-Salinas says, “a great benefit” to the RGV. Vela agrees, as he states OBHP identifies people who were previously unaware of having a health condition, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, every year. He also notes that OBHP does not just identify those individuals, but also provides them “options to live a better life by the interventions offered in OBHP.” Arriaga-Salinas echoes the importance of OBHP, as she claims it is “crucial” for RGV families to utilize the program, especially before the school year begins. OBHP presents itself as a wonderful opportunity both for medical professionals and students to help their area and for RGV residents to unite, prepare, and improve their health as a whole.
Editor’s Note: Reporter Steve Taylor assisted with this story from McAllen, Texas.
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