Critical Condition

Expect the Iraq war to worsen the Medical Center's reduction in Arab patients

"They prefer to come here. But if it's difficult, they find another solution," she says.

Stuart Patt, a state department spokesperson in D.C., disputes the complaints about the visa process. Since 9/11, the state department has reduced visa delays and now processes about 90 percent of the applications within three weeks, he says.

The department issued 7.5 million visas out of ten million applications processed in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2001, Patt says. But only 7.9 million applied the following year, with the department granting 5.7 million visas -- a 24 percent decrease in visas issued.

Botani had made marketing trips to the Middle East for foreign patients.
Monica Fuentes
Botani had made marketing trips to the Middle East for foreign patients.

Houston is hardly alone with its financial woes. Other U.S. premium medical institutions such as the Mayo Clinic also report hefty drops in Arab clientele, according to Andy Icken, executive vice president of the Texas Medical Center.

Icken met with officials from the Mayo Clinic and other complexes last October to develop a plan to alleviate the grip on visas. They came up with a proposal for a "health care visa," which Icken and others are pushing through Congress and the Bush administration. He says the new visa, which he hopes will be approved this summer, would help expedite the application process.

But Memorial Hermann's Botani says it's the quality of U.S. medical care that ultimately will get the numbers back up. He's just not sure when.

"That's related to many…political issues," he says. "I do believe that the U.S. provides the best medicine in the world…and that will keep people coming back."

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