Practice Management

Visa worries intensify pandemic stress for immigrant hospitalist moms


 

The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for all hospitalists, especially those who are parents of young children. For hospitalist moms who are also immigrants working on temporary H1-B visas, this stress is exacerbated. Though each story is unique, the underlying themes are the same: Worries over visa renewals, the immigration process, family members back home, and the risk of illness, job loss, and deportation.

Supporting the family

Like all health care workers, Prasanna Palabindela, MD, a hospitalist at Jennie Stuart Health in Hopkinsville, Ky., has been worried about bringing COVID-19 home to her family, especially in the beginning. Her in-laws had just arrived from India for a visit in March 2020 when the pandemic began, everything was shut down, and her in-laws were forced to settle in for an unexpected months-long stay.

Dr, Prasanna Palabindela, Jennie Stuart Health, Hopkinsville, Ky

Dr, Prasanna Palabindela

Along with her elderly in-laws, who also have chronic conditions, Dr. Palabindela had two small children to worry about – a then-5-month-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. “I was more worried about them than me,” she said. “I used to take showers before coming home and just do all precautions as much as I can. I’m glad that I did not bring COVID, so far, to the family.”

Once she could safely send her in-laws back to India, Dr. Palabindela began searching for a nanny. Daycare was out of the question because she didn’t want her children to be exposed to illness. After a long search, she found a nanny who could also help her son with virtual school. “It’s expensive, but still, my family and my family’s health is my priority,” she said.

Working on visas has caused multiple issues for Dr. Palabindela and her husband. After living in different states because of their jobs, her husband joined her in West Virginia for her residency and found a job there. When Dr. Palabindela took her current position, her husband had to quit his job in West Virginia and move with her to Kentucky for them to stay together. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find a good fit for work in Kentucky, so the couple decided to put him on her visa so they wouldn’t have to live apart.

Now Dr. Palabindela is the family’s sole breadwinner. “That means if something happens to me, I always worry what’s going to happen with my family because legally, my husband cannot work. Technically, everyone is deported back to home,” she said. Not being able to work is hard for her husband too. “It’s just so much stress in the family because he worked for 11 years,” said Dr. Palabindela.

Through all the upheavals, Dr. Palabindela has had support from all sides. Her husband has been the biggest source. “He’s my backbone. Every time, he supported me in each and every aspect,” she said. Her parents and her brothers check in on her constantly to make sure she’s staying safe. Even the chief at her hospital has played a significant role, going to bat for his physicians to ensure their safety.

Dr. Palabindela credits everyone who works with COVID-19 patients as heroes. “The nurses, the physicians, the housekeeping, respiratory therapist, speech therapist, physical therapy ... everybody has a role. Everybody is a hero,” she said. “Whoever is wearing a mask is a hero, too, because they are contributing to this community.”

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