As early as 2 a.m., residents of Hidalgo County lined up outside of Palmview High School for a free medical screening. Although the doors didn’t open until five hours later, people secured their place in line to ensure their needs would be met.
Every year for a week, medical volunteers provide screenings to the uninsured or underinsured residents along the South Texas border.
From July 27 – July 31, medical volunteers provided screenings to more than 10,000 people at five clinics along the South Texas border and in Palmview, Rio Grande City and at PSJA High School. The service, known as Operation Lone Star, is the largest public health humanitarian effort in the country. Local, state and federal entities, along with volunteers, band together to make the program possible.
Medical services included immunizations for children, screenings for diabetes, blood pressure, hearing, vision and sports physicals. Dental exams were also available.
Rows of dental chairs lined gym as medical professionals shined lights in the gaping mouths community members.
“For some, Operation Lone Star is the only chance all year that residents, families and children are able to see a doctor,” said Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia at the on-site luncheon. “We also have a unique population which has specific needs such as higher incidents of obesity, diabetes and other common conditions that are often compounded by the lack of resources.”
According to the South Texas Diabetes Initiative, nearly 76,000 people in the Rio Grande Valley have diabetes. Between 2009 and 2013 nearly 35 percent of individuals live below the poverty level in Hidalgo County, according to the U.S. census. As of 2013, at least 19.1 percent of Texas’ population didn’t have health insurance.
Stan Brock, founder of no-cost clinic Remote Area Medical, said his organization has helped people in places such as in the Amazon, Nepal and Africa, but 90 percent of the work they do is in the United States.
“For many millions of people in the United States, they might as well be on the moon for the opportunity that they have to receive the care that they need,” Brock said. “And that’s why these events are so, so important.”
Although the effort benefits low-income residents, Operation Lone Star is actually a large-scale emergency response training for the military. It gives military personnel an idea of what to expect from the community in the case of a real health-related emergency.
“If we prepare our community for disasters, we are better able to recover more quickly when a disaster strikes,” Garcia said.
Operation Lone Star is the country’s largest joint military, civilian and government exercise during a non-emergency event. According to Major General Gerald “Jake” Betty from the Texas Military Forces, in the first 16 years of operation, the program provided 45,520 medical services.
“OLS just proves that Texans care about the citizens in the state of Texas and they care about the state of Texas,” he said. “It provides us with that opportunity to be prepared in case we do have to respond in times of crisis.”