Free medical services for all

SAN JUAN - For nearly 20 years, Operation Lone Star has provided free medical services to those of the Rio Grande Valley community. What started as a preparedness exercise between the county health department, PSJA school district and Texas State Guards eventually turned into a life changing event, allowing many who do not have access to proper health care to receive basic medical, dental and visionary exams.

With locations in Mission, Pharr-San Juan, Brownsville and La Feria, hundreds, sometimes thousands, of individuals and families show up to register within a day, waiting in long lines and often times coming back the next day just to get seen by a doctor.

However, despite the several locations, many people opt to visit the one in San Juan at the PSJA Early College High School since it is the only site that offers all three services. There, people can not only get screened for diabetes and complete their physicals, but can also see a dentist and walk out with a new pair of glasses.

“It’s for everyone regardless of income, regardless of status. Everyone is welcome.” Assistant Public Information Officer Jim Zavala said. “It provides the services that people otherwise don’t get a chance to get.”

According to Zavala, having all these services in one spot is simply convenient so that everyone can be seen in one day. With dental and vision work limited on a first come, first serve basis, many arrive as early as 5 a.m. and spend the rest of the day sitting in rows of chairs inside the gymnasium. Yet, even so, patients find the experience worth while and, for the most part, have no complaints about the long waits.

“It’s been wonderful all the way through.” said resident Angie Gomez, who sat with her granddaughter, Autumn Garrett. “Overall, it’s really good services for the community.”

Although Operation Lone Star targets those in the Rio Grande Valley, it has also provided an opportunity for those outside of the community, as well. Many of its volunteers are college students in the medical field from all over Texas looking for experience.

Puja Patel is one of them, a San Antonio native studying optometry at the University of Incarnate Word. Like the rest of the volunteers around her, she sees the positive impact Operation Lone Star has on the community, and says the work has been nothing but phenomenal.

“The amount of people we help and the pace that we’re going is amazing.” said Patel, who sees nearly 120 patients a day just for visionary. “Not only are you getting a prescription, but you’re getting your glasses made, as well. That’s where I see the biggest impact.”

The event also allows Texas State Guards to gain experience in helping both citizens and the community. All around the high school, they guide patients on where to go and what to do, creating genuine interaction between community members and soldiers.

Warrant Officer Cheryl Lemmings said the Texas State Guard are helping bring a positive influence on the community so they know help is always available.

“Our motto is ‘Texans helping Texans,’ and that’s what we’re focusing on,” she said.

Operation Lone Star will remain in the Valley until July 27. They are open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. No identification is required. Other medical services include immunizations, blood pressure checks, and hearing exams.

Complete list of locations include:

Brownsville: Rivera Early College High School, 6955 F.M. 802 
Laredo: Jesus Martinez Performing Arts Complex, 2400 San Bernardo Ave. 
La Feria: La Feria High School, 901 N. Canal St. 
Mission: Juarez-Lincoln High School, 7801 W. Mile Seven Road 
Rio Grande City: Ac2E Magnet Elementary, 1 S. Fort Ringgold 
San Juan: PSJA High School, 805 W. Ridge Road