Student physicals, hearing and vision screenings, child immunizations and in some locations dental care and eye exams for prescription glasses were among the services provided all week and will continue to be provided until 2 p.m. today by hundreds of health care professionals at five sites across south Texas.
Palmview High School and Pharr San-Juan Alamo High School served as the two Operation Lone Star host sites in the Upper Valley while middle schools in Brownsville and Rio Grande City and the Laredo ISD Performance Arts Center served as the other three sites this week.
An annual event first staged in 1999, Operation Lone Star is more than a source of free health care services for area residents. It is also a full-scale emergency response exercise uniting federal, state and local health and human service agencies, U.S. and Texas Military Forces, local service groups and volunteers to provide one of the largest public health exercises in the country.
“This is a joint mission between civilian and military personnel,” said Col. Robert Morecook, public affairs officer for the Texas Medical Rangers. “The clinics are a cooperative effort of the Department of Social Health Services, the Cameron and Hidalgo County Departments of Health and Human Services, the City of Laredo Health Department, the Texas Military Forces, the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps and various community volunteer groups.”
Blanca E. Cantu, La Joya Independent School District spokeswoman, said even though the clinic is being held at Palmview High School, its services are not solely for the school’s students and/or their families.
“This clinic is open to all of the community in the surrounding area,” Cantu said. “We just lent the facilities here at the school to host this event but it’s meant to promote the health services that OLS 2014 is providing to the people in the Palmview, La Joya, Mission, Peñitas and Sullivan City area.”
Also helping at the event were volunteers with Mission Lions Club, South Texas College, the University of Texas at Pan American and RGV Careers.
According to Cantu, more than 600 residents had registered to receive the free health care services at Palmview High School as of Monday afternoon but many more were expected to register during the week.
Cantu said the number of people eligible to receive dental care and eyeglasses was limited to a specific number each day so those who may have missed out on either of those services one day were given the opportunity of returning the following day to try again.
On the dental work being performed and the eyeglasses being provided at some of the clinics Morecook said, “Two of the organizations that are really important are the Baylor College of Dentistry whose dental students, under faculty supervision, are providing much of the dental care here and an organization called Remote Area Medical, which is providing all of the dental equipment and all of the equipment for glasses.”
Jeff Eastman, chief business officer for Remote Area Medical, was busy putting eyeglasses together in the Mobile Vision Lab at the Palmview clinic when he took a few minutes to explain the process of getting the glasses into the hands of those needing them.
“First of all ,the patients go to the eye doctor here at the clinic and get complete eye exams to determine whether or not they need glasses,” Eastman said. “When it is determined that they do need glasses, they come to one of our stations where they choose one of thousands of different styles of frames we have available. We then take their prescription and match it up to one of about 10,000 lenses we carry in all different prescriptions and we shape them down to fit the frames that the patient has picked out.”
“Early in the day, it takes us only 15-20 minutes to complete this process but as the day goes on and we get a bit backed up the patient may have to wait an hour or two for their new glasses,” Eastman said. “However the frames are designer quality frames that are donated to us by Costco, Walmart and private opticians, so the patients do walk out of here with first-quality glasses at absolutely no cost to them.”