Emergency preparedness drill brings free health care to south Texas

World Today

For many in the U.S., medical insurance – whether public or private – just doesn’t cover it. Some who can’t afford care turn to free clinics. And as CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg reports, for those who can’t get to the clinic, sometimes it comes to them.

Hundreds line up outside a south Texas high school. But they’re not here for class. Indeed, many camped out overnight.

Those who get in can be seen by a doctor and pay nothing. No questions asked, no identification required.

Technically, this is an emergency preparedness drill. State officials said the free medical care is a perk.

“We do know that there are areas here that we might have people who may not be able to afford to go to a doctor,” said John Villarreal of the Texas Department of State Health Services. “And so they take advantage of Operation Lone Star to do that.”

The Texas State Guard takes the lead – just as it would in any natural or man-made disaster.

One of those guardsmen, Patrick Mejia, explained that, “I’ve had friends and brothers die in this uniform and bleed in this uniform. So I hold it to the highest standard as possible. And the fact that I could serve my fellow Texans, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”

Almost no one working here is getting paid. That includes Junior Osinde, a 28-year-old dentist who shut down his private practice for a week so he could volunteer with the operation.

“There are government facilities for dental that are low cost to some patients,” Osinde said. “But a lot of patients can’t go to those areas because it’s very remote. If you don’t have money, you really don’t have transportation to get to the location where they serve you.”

That’s where Remote Area Medical, or RAM, gets involved. Each year, the Tennessee-based traveling non-profit leads – or partners in – more than 100 clinics across the United States.

“We’re providing medical care for folks who can’t afford medical care, or can’t afford medications to control some of their medical problems, and who are in need, who are suffering,” explained RAM core volunteer David Maurer.

Many of the patients here are uninsured. And those who have insurance said it isn’t enough.

Rhonda Schwarzbach came for glasses. She said the insurance she gets through her husband’s employer doesn’t cover them.

For her teeth, she crosses the border to Mexico, because even though she has dental insurance, “It’s still cheaper going across there. And they’ve got great dentists over there. I mean, and it’s almost a fourth of the price I would pay after my insurance kicks in.”

One of the unique things about this operation is a mobile optical lab that travels across the country. They can make customized lenses, which means people can leave with brand new glasses. And for some, that can mean the difference between night and day.

“We had a young boy come through with his grandpa. I realized he couldn’t see the writing on the wall across the hall from us,” Maurer recalled.

“We got the boy glasses and his face lit up because he had never seen birds in the trees. He had always heard them, but he never realized what birds in the tree looked like.”

For some, this is no drill.