PALMVIEW, RGV – Some see Operation Lone Star as an emergency preparedness drill but for many of the families that access its services it is more than just an exercise – it is the only time they receive medical help all year.

OLS is an annual joint military and civil humanitarian medical mission that has taken place every summer for the past decade along the South Texas-Mexico border.

This year the mission’s services will be available July 27-31 in the cities of Brownsville, San Juan, Palmview, Rio Grande City and Laredo. Free medical help will be provided from hundreds of local service groups and volunteers.

Dr. Hector F. Gonzalez
Dr. Hector F. Gonzalez

Among the services on offer are free medical exams, immunizations, limited dental screenings for children, sports physicals, vision and hearing screenings, blood pressure and glucose screenings, medical referrals, preventive health education and free Back to School immunizations.

“OLS provides an opportunity for people to get quality, basic preventive health care and learn what they can do to help prevent future health problems, while also serving as an exercise to response to mass services,” said Dr. Hector F. Gonzalez, director of health for the City of Laredo.

How important is OLS? According to statistics from the Texas Medical Association, the South Texas counties where the program is being offered this year are among the highest in the state for uninsured persons. In 2014, Hidalgo’s level of uninsured was 39 percent, Cameron’s was 36 percent, Webb’s was 36 percent was 36, and Starr’s was 35 percent.

How popular is Operation Lone Star? Incredibly important, said Sulema Flores, health services director at PSJA. “In previous years we have had people sleep outside the school waiting for the services. Some of the patients we see have never been to a medical home. They don’t have a medical home. With Operation Lone Star we can get them diagnosed and through social services we can find them a medical home and get them the health care that they need.”

Eduardo “Eddie” Olivarez, chief administrative officer for Hidalgo County Health & Human Services, agreed. “This might be the only time they get to see a health care professional throughout the whole year,” he said.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was a big supporter of OLS, visiting the program when it was held at Dr. Juliet V. Garcia Middle School in Brownsville in July, 2010. He offered these comments on the program when he helped launch it in 2004: “Operation Lone Star represents public service at its finest, and it is helping to fulfill one of government’s most sacred responsibilities by bringing critical medical and dental services to needy Texans.”

Perry said the cooperative efforts of military personnel, local and state officials, and private health care providers can improve the health and quality of life of some of Texas’ poorest families, including many who live in colonias. “For any parent, there is no better sight than a child’s healthy smile, and no greater peace than knowing a child is safe from disease and infection. Operation Lone Star makes that peace of mind available to many, at no cost, and regardless of one’s ability to pay,” Perry said.

In an op-ed, state Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, said of OLS:

“This joint, well-coordinated effort brings state health and human services agencies, Texas military forces and county health departments together to offer free medical services to under-served communities along the Texas border.

“I believe that no Americans should die because they can’t afford to live. Operation Lone Star saves lives not only by providing border Texans access to immunizations, but also through diabetic and blood pressure screenings.

“Hundreds of local service groups and volunteers also offer hearing and vision exams, sports physicals, as well as limited pharmacy and dental services.

“This volunteer spirit is a classic example of Americans helping make this country great by helping others. A healthy population also means children who can learn in school and adults who can be productive workers. We all benefit from a healthy society.”

Here are the dates, times and locations for OLS 2015:

Monday, July 27, to Thursday, July 30, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Friday, July 31, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Cameron: Manzano Middle School, 2580 W. Alton Gloor Blvd., Brownsville
Hidalgo: PSJA High school, 805 West Ridge Road, San Juan
Palmview High School, 3901 North La Homa Road, Palmview
Starr: Ac2E Magnet Elementary (old Ringgold Middle School), 1. S. Fort Ringgold, Rio Grande City
Webb: JB Alexander High School, 3600 East Del Mar Blvd, Laredo

Dental services and vision exams for prescription glasses for adults and children will be available in Palmview and San Juan. Preventive dental services for school age children will be available in Rio Grande City and Laredo.

This year OLS is being sponsored by the Department of Health & Human Services, Hidalgo County Health & Human Services, Texas Department of State Health Services, Laredo Health Department, and Texas Military Forces.