A Prescription For Frustration

Dr. Krishna Moorthi CBS

A new doctor for the town of Oakdale would be as welcome as a rare summer rain in California's sun-baked Central Valley.

Dr. Kristene Belski, the lone pediatrician here, sees up to 60 patients a day. But as CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen reports, Oakdale's new doctor won't be coming anytime soon.

"I would like to have some life and not be on call everyday," said Belski. "Right now, I'm on call everyday. Twenty-four hours a day."

The federal program placing new doctors in small towns across America has been halted because of the events of Sept. 11. Halted because the only doctors willing to come to small town America are foreign nationals.

Dr. Anna Mishann is ready to help. The native Salvadoran has already finished her medical residency in Texas. But foreign nationals like Dr. Mishann are now a security concern. Dr. Mishann declined to comment. But back in Oakdale, Dr. Belski unloaded.

"They should help these people because they want to work here where nobody wants to come."

To lure doctors, the U.S. Agriculture Department has waived visa requirements for foreign national since 1994. 3,000 doctors have responded, a third of them from the Middle East. But now the USDA says it can't screen everyone.

"We don't want those folks who want to be terrorists to use our own programs against us," said a USDA spokesman.

Dr. Krishna Moorthi, a native of India, was cleared for a rural California clinic before Sept. 11.

"It's like family around here," he said. "I want to stay here forever."

Screening was rigorous he says, with USDA red tape just the start.

"That took me three to four months. Then all the papers go to the State Department; that took about two months. Then it goes to INS; that took about four months."

A White House task force is now looking for a security solution. But the clock is running for Dr. Mishann, who may be forced to return home to El Salvador, and for Oakdale's Dr. Belski.

"I am getting older, and I cannot do much longer," she said with a quiet laugh. "Maybe two more years. It's hard."

It's getting harder in California's Central Valley too.
  • Brian Bernbaum

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