SAN JUAN, RGV – As a crowd hustles in line, a family of three from Houston, Texas looks through hundreds of free eyeglasses to decide which frames look best on their child at the annual Operation Lone Star event.
The remarkable thing here is that Operation Lone Star is put on to help low-income families along the Texas-Mexico border receive free healthcare for one week each year. But here was a family from Houston who had traveled down to a PSJA ISD high school for help.
Operation Lone Star draws many families because it offers free medical care to all. Throught collaboration by different different organizations, the program allows many individuals to receive medical care while at the same time giving the Texas State Guard and National Guard valuable training for emergency exercises.
“This is practice for us. For the people here this is free service,” Gregory Illich, of the Texas State Guard and public information officer for Operation Lone Star, said. “There are services here for no cost, but for us we’re here for preparedness, to be ready if a problem ever occurred.”
Operation Lone Star runs as a full-scale emergency exercise uniting federal, state and local health and human service agencies. Free medical services provided during Operation Lone Star include: immunizations, blood pressure checks, diabetes screening, hearing and vision exams, medical evaluations including sports physicals for students, dental services, vision exams and mobile lab to make prescription glasses.
Some of the services such as dental and vision are limited to a certain number of people a day, so it has been advised to come to get in with enough time to receive a voucher which are limited to about 100 per day.
Corayma Griego, a nursing student at Valley Grande Institute in Weslaco, Texas, claims she feels an emotional connection with the people that come in, since she grew up in the Rio Grande Valley herself. “To stay for a couple extra hours just to get them those glasses, you need to do that, since glasses are pricy,” Griego said.
When Melba Vasquez, another nursing student at Valley Grande Institute in Weslaco, Texas was asked why she participates in Operation Lone Star, she answered: “Because it feels good to give back to everybody, there are people that are less fortunate, any little thing they can get for free is a plus.”
Vasquez wants everyone to take advantage of the program, saying it’s a very good opportunity for people that don’t have any medical insurance or are less fortunate. “It feels good to give back to everybody, there are people that are less fortunate, any little thing they can get for free is a plus.”
Renelli Rodriguez, a mother of three and nurse, came with her mother and children to take advantage of the free services provided. “My favorite part of Operation Lone Star is the free immunizations for my children,” she said.
On average, the number of patients that show up at PSJA during Operation Lone Star Week varies from 700 to 800 per day. Some of the patients come in as early as the day before to get a good spot in line. In fact, before the first day of Operation Lone Star there were already people lined up at 5 on Sunday afternoon. The program is also held in Brownsville, La Feria, La Joya and Laredo.
“We serve everyone, regardless if you have healthcare,” Jim Zavala, public information officer for Operation Lone Star, said. For many it is the only time they receive medical attention all year, he explained.
“Last year I was handing out forms and the people are grateful. This is the only time people get to see a dentist or medical doctor, so the people are very grateful and that’s the greatest part of Operation Lone Star.”
Along with physicians, nursing and medical student volunteers also benefit during this event as they are gaining experience with patients, medical procedures, and the different situations they are placed in every day.