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Operation Lone Star Returned When The Rio Grande Valley Needs It The Most

Tents in the gymnasium at PSJA Early College High School where Operation Lone Star provided dental care.
Carolina Cuellar
Texas Public Radio
Tents in the gymnasium at PSJA Early College High School where Operation Lone Star provided dental care.

Jesus Rodriguez lost his restaurant job, along with his medical insurance, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. Before then, he’d never needed free medical care due to his stable job and health coverage. But when his molar started throbbing and he found himself uncomfortable and helpless, Operation Lone Star gave him the dental care he needed at no cost.

“Right now I’m not working. That’s why I’m here,” said Rodriguez.

Operation Lone Star is a yearly disaster preparedness exercise that’s run by a variety of public and private organizations since 1985. It has no relation to Gov. Greg Abbott's border security program that has the same name and started earlier this year. The San Juan location had a dental, vision and medical clinic all set up in PSJA Early College High School where hallways and gymnasiums were full of socially-distanced people waiting for their turn.

Dr. Gillian Robinson-Warner, an assistant professor in the restorative department at Howard University College of Dentistry, led the volunteers from the Howard University School of Dentistry dentistry that performed dental procedures.

“I think that it gives people hope,” said Robinson-Warner. “We are wanting to help people that don't have all the things they need to go into a dental office.”

The program halted in 2020 amid the pandemic but came back in 2021 equipped with new procedures and equipment to adjust to the circumstances. The dental clinic now has tents with an air filtration system and equipment for almost any dental procedure, from filling a cavity to tooth extractions. Also, the medical unit added more isolation rooms in case a patient tests positive for the coronavirus. All clinics encouraged patients to get their coronavirus vaccine which was offered in the immunization area of the medical clinic.

In the afternoon, Rodriguez said he and all of the other patients sitting in fold-up chairs on the basketball court had been waiting since the morning for their procedures but he said he doesn’t mind.

“It’s all good, I see that they’re working and working and I’ve seen them help so many people today,” he said.

Operation Lone Star has ended for the year.

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