A weeklong service aimed at providing free medical care across the Valley is currently in effect.
Now in its 21st year, Operation Lone Star offers free dental services in two Hidalgo County locations-at PSJA Early College High School at 805 West Ridge Rd in San Juan and Juarez-Lincoln High School, 7801 West Mile 7 Rd. in Mission.
“We’re able to serve the community and help people that come out,” Jim Zavala, a public information officer for the San Juan location said. “We provide medical, vision and dental services. We have glasses that are given out to patients and people come out multiple days to get their vision and teeth checked and to see a doctor.”
According to a report from the Texas Health and Human Services, last year’s Operation Lone Star saw 9,346 patients across all locations, a 14 percent increase from the previous year, the report stated.
Zavala said that the numbers are expected to remain the same based on the number of attendees that have been coming in at the San Juan location-about 600 patients total for its first two days.
“So many people come here to see a doctor, sometimes it’s the only time a year for them to see one,” Zavala said. “They get their sports physicals done, families come in and get their immunizations done, OLS is here to help the community.”
The weeklong operation is done with a partnership through the Tennessee-based non-profit Remote Area Medical, which recruits volunteers and gathers donated medical equipment and supplies to be used across all OLS locations.
Among the volunteers include local doctors, counselors from Tropical Behavioral Health services, a dentist from Oasis Family Dentistry who closed her office for the day to volunteer in the San Juan location, and medical students.
OLS runs Monday through Thursday from 7:30 am to 3:30 p.m. and from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday.
OLS works by having patients show up to receive a “flier,” a form requesting if they need dental or vision services. Only 100 fliers per service are handed out and patients can go see a doctor afterward. Most patients usually leave after three hours, Zavala said. Adding that patients wait in line overnight to get a flier as soon as they’re distributed at 7 a.m., or risk being turned away.
Among these individuals were Thelma Garza from Donna. The mother of three arrived with her children and waited in line since Monday at 11 p.m. along with several other families.
“We’ve done this before in the past, so we know that we need to be here early to be seen,” Garza said. “If you come here later it’s too late.”
Garza said she’s attended OLS in previous years for multiple services but this year was only attending for vision services, saying that otherwise her family couldn’t afford these services.
According to Paul Maurer, a clinic coordinator at Remote Area Medical, $50,000 worth of medical equipment and services were donated to be used at OLS through their organization.
Among these services include eyeglasses and a remote lab that added the prescription lenses to them for patients so they can receive their new glasses on the same day of their eye exam.
Maurer stressed that OLS was open to all. Upon registration, staff members don’t ask for any form of identification beyond a name.
“We treat anyone and don’t ask who they are or where they’re from, we’re just happy to treat those in need,” Maurer said. “It’s huge for the community, there’s lots of people suffering and this is their opportunity for them to get help.”