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Ousted nurse swamped with job offers
COOK COUNTY | Sun-Times story makes gov, other recruiters say 'Wow'

Friday, July 20, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON

Amid a nationwide nursing shortage, Sally Lemke suddenly found herself Thursday as perhaps the hottest free agent on the job market.
Just hours after Chicago Sun-Times readers learned that Lemke -- honored by a Chicago group as their nurse of the year -- was laid off by Cook County government, the nurse practitioner was fielding calls from assorted local hospitals with job offers.
And Gov. Blagojevich, who a spokesman said was moved by the front-page story, personally called Lemke to talk about a state job.
Lemke said she was "shell-shocked" by all of the attention.
Last week, the VNA Foundation named Lemke their Super Star in Community Nursing Award winner and delivered her a $25,000 cash prize.
This week, county health officials laid her off.
Aides to County Board President Todd Stroger said that because of budget cuts, they could offer Lemke a job only as a basic floor nurse, insisting there was nothing available at their hospitals or clinics that would otherwise match her talents.
And, they insisted, there's no patronage or waste to cut to make room for more nurses.
But plenty of others said they're willing to find a way to keep a nurse like Lemke employed.
"She sounds phenomenal," said Brian Davis of Edward Hospital in Naperville. "I've had two recruiters in here saying, 'We have to go after this woman.'"
And proving how competitive the nursing market is, others inquired, too, including state officials who want to get Lemke into one of their many community nursing programs.
"She's obviously very talented, and we're always looking for health-care professionals," said Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff. "The governor saw the story and thought, 'Wow. Here's somebody who clearly has a good track record. Let's see what we can find for her on the state level.'"
Lemke was offered a senior-level position as bureau chief of nutrition in the Department of Human Services, Ottenhoff said, dealing with prenatal and maternal health and nutrition.
Though still reeling from all of the attention, Lemke said if there's "a silver lining in all of this," it's the spotlight on both the VNA Foundation and the work that so many other community clinic nurses do.
Lemke works with at-risk mothers in a pregnancy program at Cook County's Austin Health Clinic.
She said she wishes she could continue with the program she helped start 18 months ago, as she "was laid off from a really great job," but she'll work through July 30, then weigh her options.
"I'll look to carry on the spirit we have here somewhere else," she said.


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