Filipino Therapists Thrive In Warsaw

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
Dave Bolinger, of Warsaw, had knee replacement surgery a couple of years ago, and qualified for physical therapy after leaving the hospital. Three physical therapists from the Benton County Health Department (BCHD) provided services to him in his home, and Bolinger was very satisfied with the results.  Bolinger and his wife, Cynthia, also found it interesting that all of the therapists were from the Philippines. 
Kelli Daleske, Supervisor of Home Health Care at BCHD, said that the three physical therapists from the Philippines were initially on contract from a national company that provides therapists who fill short-term vacancies all over the U.S.  The first to serve at BCHD was Haziel Perlada-Lankero, who came in early 2008. Then, later that year, Venus Chupuico arrived, and in 2013 Videl Chupuico (Venus’s husband) began his employment. All three are now American citizens and permanent employees of BCHD. They provide therapy for any neurological or orthopedic conditions as well as therapy for patients with Parkinson’s Disease or Multiple Sclerosis.
Venus Chupuico is the lead physical therapist at the Health Department. She and her two colleagues came to the U.S. on skilled workers visas (H1B). They all graduated from physical therapy schools in the Philippines, but could not practice in the U.S. until they took a battery of tests. After they were sponsored by their contract company, they began traveling to temporary assignments in many locations where they were most needed.
Venus arrived in the U.S. in 2005 and was temporarily on contract to BCHD in 2006.  Then, she went to St. Louis before returning to the Warsaw. 
“My associates and I are very happy in Benton County,” said Venus. “At first it just seemed like a small town without a lot of entertainment and shops, so we went to Springfield on weekends. But, after a few months, the area started to grow on us and now we enjoy the peace, nature and quiet.”
Graduating in 1998 from a physical therapy school in the Philippines, Venus decided to come to the U.S. because of the lack of opportunities in her native country. She left behind her mother and brothers.
“There are no nursing homes, and hospitals usually only have one physical therapist at a time,” she said. “People cannot afford to get insurance that pays for the services of a physical therapist.  It is heartbreaking.  If there an emergency and people don’t have cash to pay down on the cost of treatment, they are turned away.  There are some public hospitals, but many people live too far away from them.  In the Philippines everybody is expected to take care of their own.”
Venus and the other therapists work Monday through Friday, and take turns being on call during weekends in case someone needs their services upon release from a hospital. The physical therapist staff has just increased with the addition of Anna Bautista.
The H1B visa allows a foreign national with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent to work in the U.S. in a specialty occupation. If an individual does not possess a bachelor’s degree, it may be possible to qualify based on a combination of progressive work experience, training and education. The spouse and children (under 21) are allowed to join the H1B visa holder on H-4 status. The H1B is valid for three years.  The period may be extended for a period of six years. Occupations that qualify for this visa include medical personal, scientists, lawyers, accounts and architects.
The website reports that it takes at least six months to process an H1B visa, and that there are only 65,000 H1B visas available annually.
President Trump recently added an additional step in the H1B visa process. Those who are on work visas and applying for permanent residence are now required to go through an in-person interview.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 2,660 to 4,850 physical therapists are employed each year in Missouri. These therapists earn from $49,070 to $79,310 annually in our state, which is at the lower end of earnings in the nation. The Republic of Philippines Department of Labor and Employment reports that entry level physical therapists can make from $8,000 to $12,000 a month ($96,000 to $144,000 a year in its country.)