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Operation Lone Star brings free medical care to Valley communities

20110726_Lonestar_0360PALMVIEW – Operation Lone Star (OLS) began its first week of activities with four locations in the Valley – Brownsville, San Juan, Rio Grande City and Palmview. Next week the program will offer services in Hebbronville and Laredo.

Nearly 400 parents, children and elderly walked through the doors of Palmview High School to receive free medical services on Monday, July 25, OLS’s first day of operations. As of 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, the facility had already registered and seen 157 people.

By press time Thursday morning, the Palmview location had provided 1,205 services to 1,073 people.

Today is the last day the facility will be open. They will be open until 2 p.m. Palmview High School is located at 3901 N. La Homa Rd. in Mission.

The facility’s public information officer, Michelle Villarreal said she expected to see the numbers increase as more people knew about the event saying that people come in and then leave and tell their neighbors, relatives and friends.

The hallways and screening and waiting rooms were busy checking in patients and seeing what services they needed. One gentleman was taking advantage of the services to get immunizations for his two daughters.

He said since he is unemployed right now, it was easy for him to bring his children to the school to get their shots. He didn’t have to worry about making an appointment or bothering his wife who works full-time.

Another parent was getting her daughter’s vision screened with Dr. Yu Tang Su of Valley Vitroretinal Consultants.

The program, in its 13th year, had two main differences this year. There were no dental services performed because of budget cuts and the facility issued wristbands with bar codes for each patient that walked through the doors.

The wristbands were used to help keep proper counts of the number of people served and what services were received, and were used for practice of possible emergency operations that may be conducted in the future.

Villarreal said the wristbands are something the county wants to implement during hurricane evacuations, other emergencies that might happen in the area like mass vaccination clinics, or if something else happens where a lot of people need to be served at one time.

The facility and partners helping with the program were not only there to give free medical services to those that came through the location, but they were also training for emergency situations by participating in conference calls, learning communications with the different groups, and implementing procedures and new technology.

Local and county health department personnel were on hand as well as the Texas Military Guard. A new face this year was the United States Public Health Services who were there to help with the program and conduct a regional drill.

The Texas Military Forces had 47 individuals on hand and the U.S. Dept. of Health had 25 individuals helping out.

The facility was providing immunizations, blood pressure screenings, diabetes screenings, hearing and vision screenings, medical evaluations including complete physicals, free medicines through a small pharmacy, and social services including information about dental services, WIC and CHIP.

Everyone helping out at the facility came as volunteers including medical professionals from businesses and schools in the area. There were professionals from Mission Regional Medical Center, RGV Careers, Valley Vitroretinal Consultants, South Texas College and local organizations and clinics.

The Junior ROTC from the high school was also helping direct patients to where they needed to go.

“We’re on one Mission, here to see patients, educate them on what we have, and how to best integrate and support Texas and the community here,” said Lieutenant Elizabeth Garza, U.S. Dept. of Health.

Villarreal and Garza said that all of the military personnel offering services have medical backgrounds. Some of the individuals are doctors, registered nurses, and licensed vocational nurses as well.

“It’s so great for people to see that just because I have a uniform doesn’t mean that I only know how to handle a combat area. It’s a different skill set. It’s a different side of what’s the uniform. We’re here to provide health services,” said Garza. “More than combat operations, we are more humanitarian.”

Patients were not just pushed through the system either, said Villarreal.

If personnel found any critical health concerns in patients, they were being called back or assisted in any other way the facility could help them, even if it was a recommendation on where they needed to go for further treatment.

At least two patients that were seen Monday were asked to come back to the facility on Tuesday for further assistance.

Villarreal said Operation Lone Star is the biggest humanitarian program in the United States that supplies free medical services like this.

Last year 60,442 services were provided. Over 12,000 people last year received some sort of free medical service from Operation Lone Star.

Captain Rush, Texas Military Forces, said he has seen the program grow in the three years he has been a part of it. He also said that when the program started, Texas Military Services had more of a lead role. Where now, they are here more to support the local entities.

Rush says they have been able to improve the process over the years and have worked really well with the other groups that have helped with the program.

He said the way it is running now is “How it’s supposed to go.”

“Now we’re doing what we should have been doing all along, which is supporting the civilian side,” said Rush. “We’re happy to bring in doctors and nurses and communications specialists.”

Rush, who has been involved with disaster work since 1999, has seen how the federal and state assets can work together in this type of atmosphere because of this experience.

He added that one of his personnel and Lt. Garza are consistently asking each other “What can we do to help.”

“And that’s what we are supposed to be doing.”

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