Two weeks ago, United States Public Health Service (USPHS) officers were deployed from across the country to join forces with the local health authorities in South Texas for the 14th annual Operation Lone Star (OLS). Their mission: Bring free health care to the underserved in South Texas. This year’s OLS provided free health services to thousands of people in the Rio Grande Valley area of southeast Texas. Services at these locations included health screenings and treatments, physicals, immunizations, hearing and vision exams, and dental care.
USPHS Dental officer, CDR Angie Roach, treating a patient in the dental clinic that was set up in Manzano Middle School in Brownsville. More than 850 South Texas children and adults received services during this year's Operation Lone Star from the dental team alone.
Over 6,740 patients were seen and 34,500 services were provided, all due to the combined efforts of many joint forces, including the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Texas State Guard, the Texas National Guard, and the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps (RAM), in addition to the USPHS. During the week the dental team alone treated approximately 850 people. It isn’t just about the numbers, though. The officers participating in Operation Lone Star truly try to make a difference in the lives of the patients they saw last week.
"We worked long hours during this operation, but seeing so many beautiful smiles made our efforts very rewarding," said LCDR Amy Alvis, a Commissioned Corps pharmacist officer serving in the ICE Health Service Corps, who participated in OLS. Also trained as a dental hygienist, LCDR Alvis’ role was to provide dental cleaning and oral health instructions while at OLS.
CAPT Ross Silver from the Indian Health Service Takopid Health Center in Tacoma, Washington had a similar experience with his dental patients. “I must say that the most rewarding part of OLS 2012 was the patients. They were so grateful. The hugs and "God Bless You’s" were awesome. As a fellow officer said, his time in the USPHS has made him a better clinician and a better person. I couldn't agree more.”
Another Corps officer, LCDR Jenny Mohon, saw and treated 18 diabetics over the course of the week, two of whom were previously undiagnosed. As part of her service, LCDR Mohon, a nurse officer serving in the Indian Health Service at Lawton OK, instructed her patients on how to take care of their feet which may prevent complications or even an amputation as their diseases progress.
But the week’s patients weren’t the only ones who benefitted by OLS 2012. South Texas as a whole benefits, since the secondary mission of Operation Lone Star is to provide training and build camaraderie among the services who would work together during an emergency. The value of the opportunity to build relationships with other health providers and emergency responders was not lost among those participating in the 14th year of Operation Lone Star.
“The support of the Texas State Guard and Rural Area Medical personnel was unbelievable. We could not have achieved the numbers we did without them and the Baylor dental students, the local dental hygienists and assisting school students, all who helped keep the workflow moving” says dental officer, CAPT Ross Silver. The agencies involved ranged from state and local health and human services agencies, to Texas Military Forces, the U.S. Public Health Service, and community volunteer groups.
“We can rest assured that when an emergency strikes again, our first responders will be well prepared, and coordinated,” Silver said.
Both missions accomplished.