WEBB COUNTY, Texas – It was a mission well done for more than 60 students and faculty from the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi College of Nursing and Health Sciences, who volunteered to provide a concentrated effort of care to those who need it most. From June 19-29, Islander students and faculty, along with members of the Texas A&M Colonias Program and more than 200 U.S. Army personnel, were in Webb County, offering healthcare services, infrastructure enhancements and other services to the improve the quality of life for those living in Colonias near Laredo. Colonias are rural communities that lack basic living necessities, such as sewer systems, electricity and safe and sanitary housing.
During the two-week effort, organized by the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Innovative Readiness Training (IRT), temporary health clinics were set up at the Larga Vista, Fred M. and Anita Bruni, El Cenizo and Santa Teresita Community Centers, and military medical professional – with assistance of Islander students – offered primary health checks, vision screenings and dental care.
More than 2,000 patients were seen during the IRT, with approximately $2 million dollars in free services delivered.
One of the students who signed up to help, Luisa Salazar, is a senior health sciences major at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Salazar grew up in the El Cenizo Colonia.
“My main role has been a translator,” said Salazar. “I help patients get past any language barriers, and look over data from the patient appointments,” said Salazar.
Salazar knows first-hand the medical needs of this community.
“El Cenizo needs a permanent clinic, emergency room and ambulance,” she said. “The closest clinic and emergency room is about 20 minutes away and an actual hospital is 30 to 45 minutes away.”
Salazar was excited to use the skills she has learned at the Island University to help the people of her hometown.
“It’s been pretty amazing coming back to El Cenizo,” Salazar said. “I have seen a lot of people I grew up with and it’s been a surprise for them to see me here, and ask questions about what I am doing. After graduation, my plan is to continue this care and help them get the healthcare resources they don’t have.”
Carlo Morales, another senior health sciences major at A&M-Corpus Christi who volunteered his skills to the IRT, is also from Laredo.
“What I am doing makes a world of difference,” says Morales. “I’m helping out my community with the education I got at A&M-Corpus Christi. It shows the people here that if they get an education, they too can come back and help their community.”
IRT is a civil-military program that builds partnerships between U.S. communities and DoD to meet training and readiness requirements for active, guard and reserve service members while addressing public and societal needs.
Dr. Mary Jane Hamilton, CONHS Dean, says the IRT effort not only strengthens the skillset of Islander nursing and health science students, but enforces the University’s commitment to supporting underserved communities and the military.
“This effort has made these soldiers aware of A&M-Corpus Christi’s highly important eLine military program, which offers prior credit to nursing students who have served our country,” said Hamilton. “Not only has one of the soldiers here today signed up to enroll in our eLine program, but one of our current E-line students who is down here in Laredo received a letter of commendation from an Army doctor, which is a really big deal.”
Hamilton says students simultaneously gained healthcare education and inter-professional education.
“Islander students worked with physicians, optometrists, dentists, physician assistants and nurse practitioners to deliver care,” said Hamilton. “In addition, there were dietitians, physical therapists and mental health workers from the military. Everyone worked side by side, filling roles and helping patients. It was an amazing experience; the military had never worked with a group of students this large before, and they were extremely excited about our students and felt they were a big help in carrying out the mission.”
Along with health services being offered during the two-week IRT, Army soldiers received practical training as they worked to improve a two-mile stretch of roadway at one Colonia community. Additionally, soldiers spread five acres of soil at another Colonia community sports complex, giving children a safe place to participate in extracurricular activities. Meanwhile, another group of Army reservists distributed surveys within nine different Laredo-area Colonias. The data will be given to Webb County officials to assist them in developing solutions to enhance the quality of life for Colonia residents.
“These missions become very personal for our soldiers. They care about the people here, and they care about working in these communities and doing the right things for our own citizens,” said Brigadier General John B. Hashem, U.S. Army. “Training in this area is beneficial for our readiness and beneficial for this community. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
On June 27, Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp, along with high ranking Army officials, signed a Memorandum of Understanding. This memorandum will facilitate a strategic and mutually beneficial relationship with intentions to continue these IRT efforts in the Colonias multiple times a year.