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'Super Star' nurse let go by county
'IT'S A SHAME' | Sally Lemke won $25,000 award days before budget cuts left her without a job

Thursday, July 19, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON

Last week, the Visiting Nurse Association Foundation publicly named Sally Lemke its nurse of the year. This week, Cook County government laid her off.
In just a matter of days, she went from being honored as the 2007 Super Star in Community Nursing Award winner to looking at the unemployment line after she declined a lower-paying county nursing job.
Lemke planned to spend part of her $25,000 cash prize by taking her colleagues out for a day at the spa. She and her husband, Tony, would put the rest in a college fund for their boys, Charlie, 6, and Adam, 10.
She still hopes to do all that but is also reprioritizing as the latest victim of sweeping county budget cuts that have closed clinics and cut hundreds of jobs.
"This should be a happy moment for her," said Rob DiLeonardi, executive director of the nursing foundation. "Instead, it's overshadowed by her losing her job. It's a shame, and we're saddened by it."
Lemke helped start and now runs a county program for at-risk pregnant mothers on the West Side. She is trying to keep her chin up, but she worries about the women in her care.
"I'm a big girl -- I'll find something," Lemke said. "But this is a shame for the patients. They're losing out. Unfortunately, a lot of good people are leaving."
Declined lower-paying job
Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's aides blamed Lemke's departure on union contracts that place more weight on seniority than talent.
Lemke came to the county just 18 months ago, after an impressive career that has seen her working in grass-roots, community-based programs across the country. She is a nurse practitioner, a position that requires advanced education and allows her to provide care similar to a physician.
County officials, she said, offered her little choice: a lower-paying job as a basic floor nurse or a layoff.
Hospital chief Dr. Robert Simon called her "one of the best nurses we have" and "we want to retain her," but he said there "really isn't" any administrative or management job he could offer her. "She decided to leave to go some place that will respect her talents," he said.
Simon has repeatedly said there's no bureaucracy or patronage that can be cut in order to save nursing jobs, but nursing union officials say that's not true.
"President Stroger and Dr. Simon have decided to wipe out these clinics, where people like Sally Lemke do a wonderful job every single day," said Sheilah Garland-Olaniran of the National Nurses Organizing Committee. "Hundreds like her make this system work, and hundreds like her are gone. It's a disaster."
Lemke's last day will be July 30, and she leaves "fairly discouraged" and questioning "whether the county can still work toward its core mission," but adds "how much more can I fight?"
"I'm disappointed," she said. "But this hasn't diminished my passion for community health care at all. I still want to make sure my patients are cared for and that they have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies."


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