What a difference a week makes. In the case of Sally Lemke, the nurse recently fired from her job at an Austin clinic stemming from Cook County budget cuts, the week has made a world’s difference in her life.

Last Monday, Lemke learned that she would be replaced with someone with more seniority in the prenatal care unit she ran. The news came shortly after Lemke received the Super Star in Community Nursing Award from the VNA Foundation for her work in community health care. The award includes a $25,000 cash prize.

The story was first published in the Austin Weekly News’ sister publication, Wednesday Journal in Oak Park. The Chicago Sun-Times picked up the story with a front-page article last Thursday. The rest of the local media would also go after the story.

Lemke, a nurse practitioner with the Austin Health Center, has since been flooded with calls with potential job opportunities. One call came from Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s office.

Lemke said the job is a management position with the state’s human services department in the division of mental infant nutrition. She’s weighing whether or not to take it.

The married mother of two still has a caseload working with expectant mothers at the Austin center. Her last day is July 30.

Lemke admits that the timing of her firing and her award announcement made hers a unique story for the media to pick up.

“Call me naive, but I really didn’t think that this would happen,” she said.

Lemke noted that the real issue is the state of health care in Illinois and the country. The Austin clinic has lost other workers and more are leaving, she said.

“People in need of quality health care are in need of good health care workers, and not just me,” she said. “The real loss is to the Austin community.”

AWN also brought up the fact that if this had happened, say, a year ago, Lemke might have been scoped out by Michael Moore, whose new film Sicko takes a critical look at the nation’s health care system.

“That would have been something!” Lemke said, breaking into laughter.

– Terry Dean