(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa)
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa) is working to increase the number of doctors allowed to practice in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. Finkenauer helped lead over 40 legislators in writing a letter to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli, expressing concern that regulations for visa programs will limit the amount of doctors available during the pandemic.  

Medical professionals holding H-1B and J-1 visas are not permitted to provide medical care outside of specific medical facilities. Members of Congress want Cuccinelli to waive these restrictions and increase the number of medical professionals available during this public health crisis. President Donald Trump’s decision last week to ban issuance of green cards for sixty days could make it even harder for hospitals to bring in more medical professionals to help fight the pandemic.

“The current public health crisis requires a robust and timely medical response that begins with getting physicians on the front lines,” the letter states, “Healthcare workers on H-1B and J-1 visas are a key resource in this process.”

In the letter, legislators state that not allowing physicians with H-1B or J-1 visas to transfer to hospitals and facilities overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients or suffering from staff shortages due to quarantine requirements is detrimental. 

Across the country, hospitals are finding themselves understaffed and overwhelmed due to the rapidly growing number of COVID-19 patients, on top of battling supply shortages in personal protective equipment.  Even before the pandemic, there was a shortage of nurses in the United States, specifically emergency rooms and intensive care. 

“The American Nurses Association is concerned about the pending shortage of nurses to care for COVID-19 patients,” said the group’s present Ernest Grant in an interview with NBC. “It is critical that healthcare facilities do all they can to protect this essential workforce.” 

“People will die because, realistically speaking, you cannot attend ten, 20 or 30 patients to yourself,” said New York emergency room nurse Katherine Ramos to NBC, “How could you possibly give the care, the quality care that is necessary? You can’t.”

The letter was signed by 17 U.S. senators and 27 members of the House of Representatives, including Rep. Finkenauer, who has been working on coronavirus relief since early March. 

“We urge you to grant healthcare providers relief as soon as possible so that our nation’s critical resources can be effectively deployed,” the members wrote. “Such a decision would give our nation’s health care providers the flexibility that is needed to mount an adequate response during this emergency.”