SAN JUAN, Texas – From Monday, July 25 through Saturday, July 30, Texas Health and Human Services will conduct Operation Border Health/Preparedness (OBHP).
OBHP is a program that sets up sites around the Rio Grande Valley, providing residents with free health services. Services include GP services, vaccinations, screenings, sports physical exams, dental services, vision services, etc.
While helping the public maintain their health is a goal of OBHP, the underlying goal is to help the community prepare for disasters.
State Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said Operation Border Health Preparedness allows state, local and nonprofit entities to practice setting up and operating health clinics that can be necessary in the event of a public health emergency, while providing free care to the community.
He said the services included medical exams, vaccinations for children and adults, sports physical exams for students, health and diabetes screenings, as well as dental and vision exams.
“Operation Border Health Preparedness is a great example of smart policy that not only ensures we are prepared for future public health crises, but also delivers immediate public benefit in the process,” Hinojosa said.
“Last year alone, these clinics provided more than 21,000 health services to nearly 5,000 people. Health care is a basic need for residents of South Texas, and I hope every resident in need of these services will visit one of these clinics to get this free care.
OBHP was previously known as Operation Lone Star (OLS), but changed its name this year to ‘more closely model what we (they) do in the event’, according to a ministry press release. of Texas Health and Human Services. In March 2021, Governor Greg Abbott adopted the name Operation Lone Star for his response to the immigration situation at the border, even though OBHP had been an ongoing mission in Texas for 22 years. It was felt that Abbott’s use of the term “Operation Lone Star” to push his immigration policies could confuse Texas residents seeking health services under the summer program.
Amber Arriaga-Salinas of Proyecto Azteca says there’s a big difference between Governor Abbott’s Operation Lone Star and the summer healthcare program that bore the same name. “The negative rhetoric pushed by Governor Abbott about the border community is very dangerous,” she said, while the OBHP is a “tremendous resource for the RGV.” She said: ‘When people outside this region hear the word ‘border’ they may think that money is being spent on ‘invasion’ which politicians use for sound bites without considering the real issues. faced by border residents.”
One of the “real problems” mentioned by Arriaga-Salinas is Texas’ failure to expand Medicaid, which perpetuates “poverty in a medically underserved region.” Arriaga-Salinas is not alone in claiming that the RGV is medically underserved, as Leonel Vela of the Border Public Health Office states that “there is a great need for medical and dental services in our region (the RGV)”. OBHP helps meet this need by providing various health services free of charge to the community. Thus, it is essential for those inside and outside the RGV to understand that Operation Border Health/Preparedness is not the same as modern Operation Lone Star.
Volunteers, health groups, local organizations and their collaboration are what make OBHP successful. Vela and Arriaga-Salinas believe that the RGV steps in when called upon to organize and work together. Arriaga-Salinas says that “all the organizations talk to each other” and “everyone participates”. At monthly Proyecto Azteca meetings, nonprofits and other health groups showcase RGV’s ability to communicate and work effectively with one another. Vela says “when a need arises, we have people who are ready to help.” He describes OBHP as a “win-win situation” as the event provides free healthcare services to RGV residents and provides an opportunity to gain more hands-on experience for those in the medical field.
By participating in the OBHP, local organizations collaborate and organize distribution points, or PODs, around the RGV to provide health services to residents. “The setup (of the PODs) and what we do at the event is to familiarize first responders with the structure of the incident command system and how that process works in a real-time event,” says Vela. OBHP is good practice in the event of a disaster on the RGV, as organizations and providers would already be experienced in collaborating and setting up PODs. For this year’s OBHP, there will be six PODs, with two sites in Cameron County. All other counties, including Hidalgo, Starr, Webb and Willacy, will have a site. The sites will operate primarily 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and primarily 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Both Cameron County locations are located at the Harlingen School of Health Professions at 2302 N. 21st Street, Harlingen, and at James Pace Early College High School, 314 W. Los Ebanos Boulevard, Brownsville. General medical services, vaccinations for children and adults, diabetes, hearing, vision and blood pressure screenings, sports physical examinations, smoking cessation services, social services and behavioral health will be offered at Cameron County facilities.
The Hidalgo County site, located at PSJA Early College High School at 805 West Ridge Road in San Juan, will only operate Monday through Friday. The Hidalgo County site will be the only site to close on Fridays at 2 p.m. instead of 3:30 p.m. which includes cleanings, fillings, and extractions), and eye exams for both child and adult prescriptions will be offered at PSJA Early College High School. Complimentary prepackaged breakfasts and lunches will be served to children ages one to eighteen attending the event, courtesy of the PSJA ISD Child Nutrition Program. Breakfast will be served from 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and lunch from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The Regional Agency on Aging, Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, University of Texas Medical Branch, Food Bank, and Nuestra Clinica Del Valle are also part of the event.
The Starr County site is located at AC2E Elementary School at 1 S. Fort Ringgold Street, Rio Grande City. General medical services, vaccinations for children and adults, screenings for diabetes, hearing, vision and blood pressure, sports physical exams, dental services for children and adults, eye exams for children and adults, social services , behavioral health services, nutrition education, car seat safety inspections and education and smoking cessation services will be offered at AC2E Elementary School. The City of Roma, La Casita Fire Department, La Grulla Volunteer Fire Department, Texas A&M University Students, Unidos Contra la Diabetes (UCD), and Lions Clubs International are partners in the event.
The Webb County site is located at Lyndon B. Johnson 9e Grade Campus at 5511 St. Luke Boulevard, Laredo. General medical services, vaccinations for children and adults, screenings for diabetes, hearing, vision and blood pressure, school and sports physical examinations, preventive dental services for preschool and school children, social services, behavioral health services, nutrition education and smoking cessation services will be offered at Lyndon B. Johnson 9e Quality campuses.
The Willacy County site is located at Raymondville High School at 601 FM 3168, Raymondville. General medical services, child and adult vaccinations, diabetes, hearing, vision and blood pressure screenings, school and sports physical exams, preventive dental services for preschool and school-aged children, preventive veterinary services for cats and dogs (including vaccinations), social services, behavioral health services, nutrition education, car seat inspections and safety education, and abandonment services tobacco will be offered at Raymondville High School. Snacks and lunch will be provided to event attendees by The Salvation Army, with loaves and fish providing lunch for staff and volunteers. Raymondville ISD, Willacy County OEM, Wesley Nurses, TSTC students and Texas A&M University and Veterinary Emergency Response are also part of the event.
The OBHP is, as Arriaga-Salinas puts it, “a great advantage” for the RGV. Vela agrees, as he says the OBHP identifies people each year who were previously unaware they had a health condition, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. He also notes that the OBHP not only identifies these people, but also offers them “options to live a better life through the interventions offered in the OBHP.” Arriaga-Salinas echoes the importance of OBHP, as she says it is “crucial” for RGV families to use the program, especially before the start of the school year. The OBHP presents itself as a great opportunity both for health professionals and students to help their territory and for the residents of the RGV to federate, prepare and improve their health as a whole.
Editor’s note: Journalist Steve Taylor contributed to this story from McAllen, Texas.
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