Shutting down

March 27th, 2014

Michael Rangel made a trip to the UTPA Student Union March 19 to speak with students about the services Planned Parenthood provides and discussed how the closing of the McAllen clinic has impacted the community.

Rangel, a community educator for McAllen’s Planned Parenthood, continues his outreach to universities and the Rio Grande Valley, despite the last abortion clinic in the Valley closing its doors March 6.

“It’s rather depressing, especially considering that it’s the last one in the Valley,” Rangel said. “I mean, we lost Harlingen, we just lost McAllen, so the nearest clinic is currently in Corpus Christi, but considering how the legislation is going, God only knows how long Corpus Christi is going to last before everyone is going to have to start going to San Antonio or take the risk and go to Mexico or finding illegal drugs in the flea markets here.”

After nearly 10 years of being the only abortion provider in the McAllen community, Whole Woman’s Health of McAllen closed down as a result of new medical guidelines passed in the Texas Legislature during the 2013 session.

House Bill 2, the anti-abortion law signed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry last July, bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, four weeks earlier than what was set by Roe v. Wade. In 1973, Roe v. Wade determined that no state could impede an abortion during the first three months, or trimester, of a pregnancy. Additionally, HB 2 restricts the way doctors can administer abortions with medication.

Jesus Garza, a freshman philosophy major, thinks that no longer having the clinic open will encourage families to discuss and analyze the different options available to  pregnant women.

“I think people might feel uneasy about this change in legislation, but I want to reassure women and remind them that they are not alone,” Garza said. “This opens up the possibility for women to choose life, which could potentially lead to the birth of the next future scientist who may find the cure  for cancer.”

Since the legislature began passing new restrictions on pregnancy termination in 2011, the number of  Texas abortion clinics dropped from 44 in 2011 to 20 after the recent closing of the McAllen and Beaumont clinics. The law requires all clinics to become ambulatory surgical centers, which means abortion providers must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. It also requires facilities to administer the abortion-inducing medication, RU-486, in person as opposed to letting women take it home.

“I think this law advocates for women’s safety and their general well being,” Garza said. “I think it will help women choose life and it will help them reconsider other options, such as adoption or parenting, with the help of a number of resources available to them in the Valley.”

Whole Woman’s Health, which currently runs four abortion clinics and one ambulatory surgical center in Texas, provides women with cancer screenings, birth control, women’s health and abortion services for low-income women, according to ABC affiliate KVUE. The Beaumont center was the only abortion provider between Houston and the Louisiana border, according to The Huffington Post.

Anti-abortion lawmakers said the legislation is needed to protect women’s health, but Irish Bautista, a senior nursing major, believes otherwise.

“I think it will impact the health and safety of women in general,” the 25-year-old said. “If this bill is thinking about the health and safety of an unborn child, (then) why couldn’t they consider the safety of the woman who is carrying the child too?”

The clinic in Corpus Christi, which is about 150 miles from McAllen, has until September to comply with the law. If it fails to adhere to new regulations, Valley residents who want an abortion will have to travel almost 300 miles to San Antonio for their procedure. Women in Beaumont will not have to travel as far, but will have to make multiple trips, according to The American Prospect, a Washington D.C. based political magazine.

Under Texas law, women who want an abortion must first get a sonogram from the physician who will be performing the procedure at least 24 hours beforehand. If a woman lives more than 100 miles from the abortion clinic, the patient is exempt from the law. The women in Beaumont live about 90 miles from the nearest abortion center in Houston.

Rangel, a UTPA graduate, believes shutting down the clinics will only make women take measures into their own hands.

“Women are still going to want an abortion, they just made it impossible for them to get a safe one. So (anti-abortion lawmakers) just put women at risk and their family at risk,” Rangel said. “I just really hope that after these election cycles are over that the people we have in the Senate, the House and the governor will hopefully realize the problem they’ve created and try and fix it.”

The Rio Grande Valley has one of the highest rates of self-induced abortion in the U.S., according to The American Prospect. A survey from 2012 found that 12 percent of women living in close proximity to the Mexican border said they had tried to terminate their own pregnancy before asking for professional help.

“Since there are no abortion clinics in the Valley, I really think women are going to start going to Mexico for services,” Bautista said. “They’ll also start buying those pills for abortions. That’s kind of a scary thought. They don’t know what kind of side effects that will get. Who’s advocating for these women? Not Rick Perry, clearly.”

Based on a 2013 analysis by Politifact, Texas provides more than 70,000 abortions each year. When the ambulatory surgical center requirement takes effect in September, clinics in major urban areas, including San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Fort Worth and Dallas, will begin to serve the patients from closed clinics.

According to KSAT 12  News, Planned Parenthood plans to open a $5 million abortion clinic in San Antonio that will comply with HB 2. The new clinic will be the only Planned Parenthood facility in San Antonio that will also be a surgical center.

“I just think the government should focus more on issues that affect the entire population,” Bautista said. “Why are they so focused on cutting off power from women to have a choice? I think the government should be focusing more on preventative measures (like) education, proper family planning, birth control and things like that. The more educated we become, the better we can take care of ourselves and hopefully prevent unplanned or unwanted pregnancies.”

UPDATE: According to a press release from Whole Woman’s Health, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit against HB 2 April 2. The organization, which is based in New York City, has fought for reproductive rights for more than 20 years The federal lawsuit consists of two parts. The first asks for an immediate court order to bring an end to the law’s requirement of admitting privileges at local hospitals. The second part aims to end HB 2’s requirement of every reproductive health care facility, that offers abortion services, to meet the same provisions as an ambulatory surgical center.

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News Briefs: Week of November 21, 2013

November 21st, 2013

UT cancels ‘Catch An Illegal Immigrant’

The Young Conservatives of Texas at the University of Texas at Austin cancelled the “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” game after administrators said it was “completely out of line with the values” of the university, according to NPR.

Originally, the organization was going to have some of its members walk around campus Nov. 20 with an “illegal immigrant” label on them. According to the original Facebook post, any UT student who caught an “illegal immigrant” and brought them back to the group’s table would receive a $25 gift card.

“The purpose of this event is to spark a campus-wide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration, and how it affects our everyday lives,” the group stated on their Facebook page regarding the event.

However, UT President Bill Powers did not approve of the event.

“As Americans, we should always visualize our Statue of Liberty and remember that our country was built on the strength of immigration,” Powers said. “Our nation continues to grapple with difficult questions surrounding immigration. I ask YCT to be part of that discussion, but to find more productive and respectful ways to do so that do not demean their fellow students.”

Supreme Court won’t block Texas abortion laws

By a vote of 5-4, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal from Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers seeking to block abortion laws in Texas Nov.19. The laws have led to the closure of 12 clinics in Texas so far, according to Reuters.

Passed in July of this year, this legislation does not allow abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards as outpatient surgical centers and requires any doctor who performs abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The appeal specifically targeted the last of these provisions.

This is not the first opposition this specific provision has faced. Judge Lee Yeakel of the U.S. District Court in Austin declared Oct. 28 that “the act’s admitting-privileges provision is without a rational basis and places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus,” according to The New York Times. This happened one day before the provision was to take effect, but a three-judge appellate panel overruled the judge.

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Texas Senator Wendy Davis visits Poncho’s Mexican restaurant

November 15th, 2013

Greeted by more than 100 supporters inside, and a group of four local protesters outside, Sen. Wendy Davis, D-TX, visited Poncho’s Mexican restaurant in Pharr Nov. 6 two days after a visit to the University of Texas at Brownsville. She showed her thanks for those supporting her campaign for Texas governor in 2014, announced by Davis Oct. 3.

 Volunteers from across the Rio Grande Valley joined together in the large tiki hut event room located at the back of the restaurant and made phone calls to local voters, asking them to support Davis. After two hours of volunteer phone calls, the Texas governor candidate arrived to personally thank the volunteers and gave a short speech before doing a meet-and-greet with her supporters.

Davis jumped to national acclaim through social media earlier this year after her filibuster against Senate Bill 5, a bill that changed abortion laws and put greater restrictions on abortion access. This stance made her an opponent for Gov. Rick Perry, R-TX, the current Texas governor, and Greg Abbott, R-TX, the current Texas Attorney General and fellow candidate for Texas governor.

 During her speech, Davis, discussed her childhood in north Texas and related it to the struggles with poverty that are seen in the Valley. She put an emphasis on public education, as well as higher education, as a means of lifting the region out of its current state of poverty.

 “Growing up in poverty and being a single mother, I know what it means to not be able to pay for higher education,” Davis said. “There needs to be an emphasis on public schooling and higher education in our great state of Texas.”

 According to an article by Texas Monthly, the McAllen and Brownsville metropolitan areas are ranked number one and number two as the poorest cities in the nation, respectively. Davis mentioned this problem and spoke about ideas on how easier access to education can help resolve this problem.

 “This region is one of the poorest in the nation and there is much to be done that can fix that,” said the Texas senator, who is now in the middle of her second term. “I want to restore that faith in Texas and give those who came from nothing, like myself, the opportunity to receive a quality education and make something of themselves.”

 Aside from discussing public and higher education needs in the region, Davis also touched on the upcoming university merger between UTPA and UTB and the creation of a medical school. She thinks the merger will be greatly beneficial to the region and ended by saying she hopes this merger will create opportunity for young Valley residents.

 In stark contrast to the positive energy of local Democrats inside the event room, protesters outside felt differently about Davis.

 This summer, Davis gained national attention with her 13-hour filibuster against SB 5. While Davis received support from abortion rights activists, according to The Washington Post, but she was also ridiculed by anti-abortion organizations for her views.

 Frank Beall, a director at Outreach RGV’s ministry, an organization aimed at defending Christianity, and protestor outside of the Pharr event, spoke candidly about his reasoning behind the protest.

 “People don’t like our message, but what we are doing is pushing people to consistency,” Beall said. “Wendy Davis claims Christianity, she doesn’t claim atheism (and) she doesn’t claim materialism. She claims Christianity and is not consistent with it.”

However, despite the presence of protesters, Davis said these visits to the RGV are the first of many to be made during the next year of her gubernatorial campaign, leading to election day November 2014.

 “This is a wonderful and beautiful community,” Davis said. “I’m so proud to be able to come here and be received with so much support and love.”

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Texas Voter ID law takes effect

October 3rd, 2013

 Photo identification is now required when voting in person in any Texas election. The first official enactment of the law  Nov. 5 is in the upcoming Texas constitutional amendment election where Texas residents have the opportunity to vote on proposed amendments to the state constitution.

The Voter ID bill was first passed by the Texas Legislature in September 2011, but after three civil lawsuits, such as the one filed by the Justice Department, who quickly blocked it. Despite the lawsuits, the U.S. Supreme Court put it into effect in June 2013 by determining Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to be unconstitutional.

During the Civil Rights movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was created to alleviate voting discrimination. Sections two through five of the act banned practice of rejecting or limiting people’s ability to vote based on race or color.

Miguel de los Santos, an associate professor in the department of educational leadership at the University, said he does not support the new requirement and believes it interferes with a person’s right to vote.

“I think it’s being passed by legislatures with bad intentions,” de los Santos said. “It discourages minority, poor and old people from voting. It makes it very difficult and all the studies that show that voter fraud without voter IDs has been almost negligible.”

Opponents to the Voter ID laws argue that they generally affect minority, low-income groups and elderly that are inclined to vote Democratic. Brennan Center at New York University conducted a study that concluded 11 percent of voting-age citizens do not possess the required photo ID needed to vote and many residents in rural locations have difficulty finding ID offices.

The study showed that in the 10 states with restrictive voter ID laws, approximately 500,000 eligible voters do not have access to a vehicle and reside at least 10 miles from the closest office that issues IDs.

Since 2004, Attorney General Greg Abbott has pursued 66 people in Texas on charges of voting irregularities, with four cases actually involving illegally casting a ballot. In the majority of his cases, the voter fraud violations were mail-in ballots, the others involved felons who weren’t authorized to vote.

Jacen Sammons, a sophomore life sciences major, said he supports the new law, thinks it will help prevent voter fraud and believes it can prevent those without valid citizenship from affecting the election process.

“The law is meant to allow only those who are citizens of the United States to vote in our elections,” Sammons said. “If you’re not a citizen, I’m sorry but you haven’t earned the right to vote in the USA. After all, would I, an American citizen, go down and vote in a Mexican Election?”

VOTER ID STUFF 300x275 Texas Voter ID law takes effect

Organizations such as the NAACP of Texas, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the Justice Department have all filed lawsuits to overturn the voter ID law. They argue that the Republican-controlled Legislature generated an illegal block to voting for those who live in rural areas and poor minorities. According to the Associated Press, minorities account for the majority of voters who do not currently own one of the six types of ID required.

“I believe (Republicans) fear that the Hispanic population is growing so fast and becoming a majority that they’re looking for ways to prevent more Democrats, if you will, or more Hispanics, from being elected,” said de los Santos. “Those who are in power, which is the Republican Party, are trying to put a halt to that.”

According to a poll by CBS News, 64 percent of Hispanics who were born in the U.S. prefer Democrats while the number to favor Republicans is 30 percent. It is estimated that 11 percent, or about 20 million people, do not have government issued IDs. At this moment, 33 states have proposed or already adopted the same voter ID laws.

“I suspect that fewer people that are minorities and elderly will vote,” de los Santos said. “I think that we’re gonna have a lot, especially among the elderly and the poor, those who don’t have transportation, will not go vote because they don’t have a driver’s license or they don’t have an ID.”

 Gov. Rick Perry argues that the requirements are designed to control voter fraud. In the course of the Bush administration, 196 million votes were cast and the number of cases with voter fraud reached 86. Of the 33 voter ID laws, 32 were proposed by Republican legislatures, passed by Republican-controlled state houses and signed into law by Republican governors.

“The ID laws will prevent fraud and make voting fair across the board,” Sammons said. “I don’t see how this would prevent minority groups from voting. After all Latino, White, Black, we all must have valid drivers licenses to drive right, which are issued by the state, which requires you to prove citizenship when you apply.”

Valid picture identification required from voters before entering a poll include a driver’s license, election identification certificate, Dept. of Public Safety personal ID card, U.S. military ID, U.S. citizenship certificate, U.S. passport or a license to carry a concealed handgun issued by the Dept. of Public Safety.

The new rules will also shorten early voting by a week, end straight-ticket voting, which allows voters to select a party’s complete list of candidates with just one ballot marking and end same-day registration, which permits residents to go to the polls on Election Day, register and then vote on the same day. There are currently four types of states with voter IDs: strict, non-strict, photo and non-photo. Strict states do not allow voters to cast a valid ballot without first presenting ID. States, such as Texas and Tennessee, require that the ID presented at the polls must show a picture of the voter.

“These are very political moves, very strategic, the argument that is being used by those who are passing the laws is that it’s preventing fraud,” said de los Santos. “But all the studies show that there is almost no fraud whatsoever with the system we have.”

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Volleyball an injury apart

September 19th, 2013

The women’s volleyball players represent the University by playing their sport and are counted on to do their best and win games, but at times this comes with a price.

Despite the cheers and recognition, the team experiences the dangers of injury after returning home from four games on the road.

Masaki, a junior setter on the volleyball team, laid prone as she received treatment for her stiff back. She explained how the season tends to take its toll on the players.

“We’ve had a lot of games on the road and it has been physically tiring for a lot of us,” Masaki said. “But recovery and coming in for treatment will help us in that process to get better.”

Though aches and pains are part of an athlete’s everyday life, when it comes to keeping the players safe, it falls to Jim Lancaster, associate athletic director for sports medicine, to make sure they receive the proper attention, despite the player’s urge to play.

“Obviously these kids wanna be out there,” Lancaster said. “When you get to this level of athletics a lot of them don’t even want to say anything to you because they don’t want you to pull them out of the game. But…(coaches) have to think about tomorrow or the next day. I’d rather take a student out for one game and give them a chance to recover and potentially save them for the rest of the season.”

According to NCSASports.org, there are about 1,600 women’s college volleyball programs throughout the nation. All these programs must watch their students, and there are certain areas that are more prone to getting hurt.

One of the jobs of volleyball players is to sometimes dive and fall, which causes an added injury risk to the ankles and knees. Because of this, indoor volleyball players must wear knee pads and ankle guards.
There is not just a risk of injury to the lower body, as women’s volleyball Head Coach Brian Yale explained.

“The shoulders (are) obviously (at risk) with the swing that we do at the net and the activity that happens up there,” he said. “(But) in female athletes, knees are always a concern. As far as going to the floor and things like that, we work it into practice…it’s part of the game and it needs to happen. It’s a matter of turning it into what we call muscle.”

Repeated overhead motions, such as spiking and blocking, often cause injuries to the shoulder. In addition volleyball athletes must pay close attention to their hands as they are prone to finger injuries.

In light of this, the National Collegiate Athletic Association keeps a close eye out for collegiate athletes by watching the count of injuries and citing which areas are injury-prone. They do this by collecting data based off of their Injury Surveillance Program. The NCAA’s ISS is a comprehensive database that assesses injury risk.

The program defines an injury as a traumatic incident that results in a player getting pulled from a game or practice. The ISS has pulled statistics on injuries since 1982. Information from this program helps them make sure that collegiate sports have the most up-to-date safety guidelines to keep its student athletes safe.

This defines what Lancaster’s job actually is; he makes sure that his players walk off the court healthy. He prefers to be safe rather than sorry.
“It’s (about) using the policy (that is set in place) to support the trainers being on the safe side,” Lancaster said. “To me, it’s unfair for sacrifices to be made when this kid might be someone’s son or daughter. If it were your own kid, would you be cautious with them?”

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News Briefs: Week of September 12, 2013

September 12th, 2013

Texas reservoirs running dry

As the Texas drought continues, within two weeks reservoir levels may collectively reach an all-time low, according to John Nielsen-Gammon, a climatologist and professor at Texas A&M University.

Texas’s reservoirs are currently less than 60 percent full, according to the Texas Water Development Board. With water storage going down about 0.1 percent each day, the all-time record set in fall 2011 for the biggest water gap, the difference between what the reservoirs can hold and what they hold, will soon be reached.

However, the drought situation could change before then. The National Hurricane Center is tracking an area of low pressure off the coast of Belize and Yucatán in the Caribbean, and the NHC estimates a 70 percent chance of it becoming a new tropical storm by Sept. 15. This could potentially give Texas a major rain event, specifically in South Texas.

Update on Syria

The United States is preparing for a possible series of military strikes against Syria, the first direct U.S. intervention in the two-year civil war, in retaliation to President Bashar Assad’s suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians Aug. 21 that allegedly killed more than 1,400 people.

The uprising in the Middle Eastern country began in April 2011, when peaceful protests against the dictatorship of Assad started. These demonstrations were considered part of the Arab Spring, a wave of non-violent and violent demonstrations, protests, riots and civil wars in the Arab world that began in December 2010.

President Barack Obama announced in a televised speech Sept. 10 that he would embrace a diplomatic Russian proposal and request that Assad give up Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons before moving forward with more direct approaches. If Assad complies, Obama will take this as a sign that military strikes are unnecessary.

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Texas’ 83rd Legislative Session in Review

August 27th, 2013

Screen Shot 2013 08 27 at 2.13.55 PM 300x245 Texas’ 83rd Legislative Session in Review

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Albert L. Jeffers passes away

August 12th, 2013

Albert Jeffers, the man who once donated $2.6 million for UTPA student scholarships, passed away this weekend.

According to Adele Everett, Jeffers’ only child, her father died Saturday night, although the cause of death is yet to be determined.

The Albert L. Jeffers Theatre in the University’s Arts and Humanities Building was named after Jeffers in 2001 as thanks for his many donations to UTPA throughout the years, one of which was the largest single gift to the University of Texas-Pan American Foundation.

At the time of the theater’s renaming, Jeffers said he watched the University grow and wanted to help it continue growing.

Thomas Grabowski, a communications professor at the University, said Jeffers had a passion for learning.

“He was a large supporter of education in general, but specifically for the communication department,” Grabowski said.

Both Albert Jeffers and his wife, Mary Lea Jeffers, would often attend performances in the theater and he appeared on stage once to salute his grandson as a part of a Reserve Officer Training Corps commissioning ceremony.

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Valley high school qb breaks neck in accident

August 8th, 2013

Photo courtesy of the Pray for Isaiah Facebook page.

By: Marco Torres

Mercedes High School endured a blow when the Tigers quarterback Isaiah Garza suffered multiple neck fractures due to an car accident Aug 8.

He was rushed into surgery after the roll over where doctors confirmed that his fourth, fifth and sixth vertebrae in his neck were broken.

Garza was driving, with Lisa Ramirez in the passenger, seat when the car rolled over on the Vermont Ave. exit of U.S. Highway 83.

Ramirez was placed in ICU but her condition are still unknown. Both Garza and Ramirez were wearing seatbelts, according to Mercedes police.

Mercedes Superintendent Dr. Daniel Trevino, Jr. met with both of the victims’ families, along with the teammates of Garza on Wednesday’s morning practice. According to the Superintendent the team is trying to remain focused on practice.

Late Tuesday night a tweet with the #PrayForIsaiahGarza was sent from Heisman trophy winner and quarterback for the Washington Redskins, Robert Griffin III.

On Aug. 7 a Facebook page was created by a family member to show support for the students in this accident. Since the page has been up it has already registered over 6800 likes and climbing.

A prayer gathering for both Garza and Ramirez will be held at the Valley Baptist Medical Center Gazebo area at 8:45 p.m. in Harlingen on Wednesday.

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Texas health care results in struggles for residents

August 8th, 2013

Armando Del Toro was turned away from his insurance provider over a $20,000 surgery to amputate his leg. He then turned to his Facebook page, “Mando’s Cause: Fighting Sarcoma,” to fund the procedure.

“I was pretty mad at first. I don’t know why they did that,” the Weslaco native said. “ I really needed that.”

Del Toro has been fighting cancer since November 2012. He was diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma after he broke his hip playing football with friends. After doctors repaired his hip, Del Toro noticed that his left leg began to swell. Doctors found a tumor on his femur bone. Despite his misfortune, Del Toro still holds a positive outlook.

He was attending South Texas College at the time and working at Home Depot. Del Toro had Valley Insurance Providers and according to Health Care Problems, is one of the 41 percent of individuals whose health care providers do not meet their needs. Providers base plans on an individual’s employer.

“It’s pretty tough, but I just want to worry about my family and friends,” the 24 year old said.

According to Del Toro, having to put off the amputation caused the cancer to spread to his lungs.

MEDICAID IN TEXAS

In May 2013, Gov. Rick Perry turned down up to $100 billion over the next 10 years in Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This bill would make sure people have access to insurance and offer new protections and benefits, such as lower costs and essential health benefits that will be covered in the Health Insurance Marketplace.

In addition, the bill required all residents to have health insurance. If they do not have access, they have to pay a fine. In 2014, the fee would have been $47.50 per uninsured child and one percent of an individual’s yearly income or $95 per person for the year.

According to Dallas News, Gov. Perry said expanding Medicaid would be inefficient and possibly overrun the state budget, though the funding from the expansion would have gone to uninsured Texas residents.

Texas residents can find insurance plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace in Oct. 2013. These plans will be involved with Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Coverage under ACA will begin Jan. 1, 2014.

HEALTH CARE IN THE VALLEY

According to the 2010 U.S. census, the median household income to pay for health insurance in Hidalgo County is $32,429. The average number of people in a household is four. Nearly 35 percent of individuals live below the poverty level in Hidalgo County and almost 52 percent between the ages of 18 and 64 do not have any form of health care in the county.

As a temporary solution for residents who have no health care, Operation Lone Star, an annual event that began in 1998 in the Rio Grande Valley, offers free health services to residents, such as dental work, immunizations, vision and hearing exams. OLS is run and funded by the Texas Department of State Health Services, Texas State Guard Medical Brigade and local health departments.

An OLS event took place at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School in San Juan, Ringgold Middle School in Rio Grande City, and Manzano Middle School in Brownsville, July 29 through Aug. 1 and at Palmview High School in Mission Aug. 2. Licensed doctors and dentists from the military, Remote Area Medical and local health departments volunteered to provide the services. RAM is a non-profit organization that provide medicare to uninsured individuals.

Students from the UTPA College of Health Sciences and Human Services conducted voluntary surveys to gather information about Hidalgo County residents’ health care status while residents waited for the services.

In order for students to participate in the OLS surveys, they were trained in needle-stick and bloodborne pathogen courses. Bloodborne pathogens are microorganisms that can pass on diseases like the hepatitis B virus or HIV. Students were also certified according to the standards established by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 that protects an individual from ages 12 through 18, for safety purposes. HIPPA ensures that medical providers sign a disclosure form before giving out any information on provided healthcare to anyone other than patients, including the individual’s parents.

Maricela Ponce, a rehabilitation counseling graduate student at UTPA, said the families that attended OLS benefited from the free services.

“The participants were very willing to share the information,” the Pharr native said. ”The responses from the community didn’t surprise me.”

The McAllen-Edinburg-Mission area ranks as the highest in incidence of obesity in the United States. According to The South Texas Diabetes Initiative, South Texas is considered “Ground Zero” for diabetes, with nearly 70,000 adults diagnosed with the disease; more than 25 percent of residents with diabetes are uninsured.

Ponce said data gathered from residents will show that Hidalgo County needs to receive assistance when dealing with diabetes and obesity. She said the event also gave students experience in dealing with an individual’s health.

Melinda Rodriguez, assistant professor of nursing education, said the data was gathered for the Closing the Gap in Health Care Disparities through Dissemination and Implementation of Patient Centered Outcomes Research Grant, through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The proposal for the grant was finalized July 31. It could potentially award up to $3 million during the three-year initiative. The data collected from OLS will be sent if the proposal is approved.

“We did this with conjunction with Hidalgo County,” Rodriguez said. ”When applying for a really large grant it helps to have research based on what you are applying for.”

Rodriguez hopes students in the College of Health Sciences and Human Services can participate in the work offered at next year’s OLS, and enjoyed how the students got first-hand experience with research.

“We want to teach them the role of the advanced nurse practitioner as a researcher,” Rodriguez said.

OLS representatives offered health screenings to those who attended the event. This could help others, like Del Toro, who is looking forward to recovering from chemotherapy and appreciates those who have helped. He is currently receiving financial assistance from Kelly Anderson Hospital in Houston.

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