Texas State Guard Lt. Col. Richard Male performs a patient screening in Mission during last year’s Operation Lone Star.Operation Lone Star makes its return to South Texas the week of July 22 as the state oversees an emergency preparedness exercise. The event features an array of health services offered for free at six locations.
Five of those locations are in the Rio Grande Valley. The sixth location is in Laredo. The clinics set up through Operation Lone Star provide basic health care services to more than 8,000 people on an annual basis since its inception in 1999. Among the services are diabetes and blood pressure screenings, as well as sports physicals and child immunizations. Dental services, and hearing and vision screenings are also available.
“Unfortunately, access to health care is not (usually) available to all of our residents,” said Jesusita Hernandez, the health emergency preparedness program director for Cameron County. “There are some residents who come in to receive services at our operation and mention that this is the only time of year they will receive medical services.”
Locations and times
The project is led by the Texas Department of State Health Services in cooperation with the Texas Military Department, county health departments and many community volunteer organizations. The event takes place July 22-26, starting at 8 a.m. daily. The event concludes at 3:30 p.m. daily, except for Friday, when the event closes at 2 p.m.
In Hidalgo County, clinics takes place at the PSJA Early College High School in San Juan and at La Joya Juarez-Lincoln High School in Mission. Cameron County locations are Porter Early College High School in Brownsville and Harlingen School of Health Professions. The Ac2E Magnet Elementary in Rio Grande City is hosting the event in Starr County.
A two-fold benefit
Operation Lone Star isn’t just about bringing vital health care to its South Texas locations. It is also about practice in setting up clinics like those that would be used in event of a public health emergency or natural disaster. In the event of an influenza epidemic or in the aftermath of a large hurricane directly hitting South Texas, the state, in conjunction with military, county health departments and numerous organizations, would set up emergency clinics and operations.
“We utilize this exercise as a training opportunity as part of a simulation of what we would do should a real event arise in the community,” Hernandez said.
Manning Operation Lone Star are volunteers who have been trained to provide both basic health care services and screenings. It also provides an excellent opportunity for students undergoing training. Here, they learn how to do blood pressure screenings as well as other services in real-life settings.
“It’s a people business and my students are going to get a hands-on experience applying the skills I’ve taught them,” said Belinda Cordova, a medical assistant instructor at South Texas Training Center in San Benito. Cordova recently received training that is required to participate in Operation Lone Star. “They’re going to see the difference they can make in helping people.”