Friday, September 28, 2001

Foreign doctors suddenly suspects

Physicians were recruited for rural areas

Associated Press Writer

        PIKEVILLE, Ky. — The federal agency that helps foreign doctors work in the medically underserved Appalachian region is urging residents not to make the physicians the target of anti-terrorism sentiment.

        Already, a physician in Harlan, frightened by what he considered a threatening fax sent to his office, is considering leaving the mountain region. Another has accepted the apology of police after being placed on the ground and handcuffed at a Greyhound bus station in Charleston, W.Va.

        “Everybody in this country came from somewhere, so it's just extremely unfortunate that some misguided individuals are releasing their frustration on absolutely the wrong party,” said Duane DeBruyne, a spokesman for the Appalachian Regional Commission.

        Mr. DeBruyne's agency recommends visas for physicians who agree to work at least three years in mountain communities — 295 physicians are participating.

        “The history of the program is that these doctors are extremely well-received in their communities,” Mr. DeBruyne said. “They have made and continue to make critical contributions to health care, particularly in rural Appalachia.”

        Some doctors worry that may have changed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

        Dr. Ahmad H. Ahmad, a native of Jordan, asked Kentucky State Police to investigate the fax, which contained a photograph of a bearded man in a turban with a target drawn on the forehead. The words “Shoot to KILL” were written across the bottom of the page.

        However, Trooper Buddy Simpson said investigators concluded the fax, which was sent last week from the Harlan Appalachian Regional Hospital, was not intended as a threat. Trooper Simpson said the matter was left to hospital administrators to deal with. Hospital spokesman Mark Bell said the employee who sent the fax was suspended.

        Dr. Ahmad, 36, a Muslim, said he chose to live in Harlan even after he fulfilled the time requirement for the visa program because he loved the people and the community. Now he's having second thoughts about that decision.

        “It's just hard to imagine,” he said. “People were so friendly, and the town reminded me of back home.”

        In Charleston, W.Va., Dr. Prathap Chandran, a native of India and a U.S. citizen, was detained by police on Sept. 12 after a Greyhound driver reported a suspicious passenger on his bus. Police Chief Jerry Riffe apologized after the incident.

        “It is my skin color, I know,” Dr. Chandran told the Charleston Daily Mail. “If I did not have this skin color, I would not have been treated this way. Nothing would have happened.”

        Charleston police officers placed Dr. Chandran on the ground and handcuffed his wrists behind his back, while other authorities pointed weapons and screamed instructions at him.

        “I kept telling them they had the wrong guy,” Dr. Chandran told the newspaper. “I told them to please listen to me. ... I am not here to hurt anyone or anything. I am here to help.”


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