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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Filipino Nurses Follow Well-Worn Path to Jobs in Skokie

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When Cecilia Buenaflor came to Chicago after she left the Philippines in 1992, she was on her own. The newcomer, who had worked at a New York hospital, did not know anyone. As a single parent, she was struggling to balance motherhood and the demand to earn a living, and being 8,000 miles away from home didn't help.

"Economically, I cannot survive in the Philippines just being a nurse," Buenaflor said. "I have a family that I have to support."

Working as a nurse at a senior living facility in the Philippines, Buenaflor was paid $10 an hour. With two young daughters at home and an extended family back in her homeland to support, it was a "tough" time for her, she said.

"But as long as you work hard, you will be rewarded," Buenaflor said of her philosophy.

Now, she is the president and chief executive officer of Life Home Health Care in Skokie, an agency that provides nursing at-home services to patients. Her company ranks in the top 6 percent in home health agencies in the United States and employs between 50 and 60 nurses, mostly Filipinos and many of them Skokie residents, she said.

Sitting in her corner office in the company's building at Gross Point Road and Lincoln Avenue, Buenaflor reflects on her career path, noting her father pushed her into a nursing career.

After World War II, the aspiration to achieve the American dream became a driving force for the influx of nurses from the Philippines, a U.S. prize from the Spanish-American War in 1898 until gaining independence in 1946. The Exchange Visitor Program, and later the immigration reform of 1965, enabled Filipino nurses into the U.S. to fulfill their dreams. Their success persuaded relatives and friends to follow, starting a cycle that continues despite tighter economic times and immigration rules.


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