STEUBENVILLE - The woman who wanted a career in law is preparing to retire from the Steubenville health commissioner position she has held since 1993.
Patricia DiBenedetto was a senior at Catholic Central High School in 1966 when students were encouraged to decide on a future career.
"I wanted to be a lawyer. But my father told me I should be a nurse or a teacher. I couldn't see myself in a classroom, so I decided to go to nursing school at the Wheeling Hospital School of Nursing. I graduated in 1969 as a registered nurse and started working in the med-surgery department for women at Ohio Valley Hospital," recalled Patty Reda.
LONGTIME FRIENDS — Steubenville Health Commissioner Patty Reda, left, and Director of Nursing Sandy Perlosky review documents in the health department. Reda is preparing to retire as health commissioner at the end of the month. - Dave Gossett
And the rest is history for the woman who grew up on Pleasant Heights.
"I married Tony Reda in 1970 and was working at the hospital as a full-time nurse until 1973, when my son, Anthony, was born. I started working on a part-time basis until 1977 when my daughter, Michelle, was born. I stopped working outside of our home until 1980 when I went back to work at Ohio Valley Hospital where I worked under the direction of Lucille Hoover who taught me so much. I decided at that early point in my career I wanted to follow her lead in organizing everything," explained Reda.
"She would walk from room to room in her area and cite the patient's name, if they had surgery yet, what their diagnosis was and when they were scheduled to be released. All that without looking at a chart. She had her patients organized and kept that information in her head. I learned so much from her that helped me in my career," said Reda.
"I decided on a career change in 1982 and moved to a part-time nursing job in the emergency room at St. John Hospital, where I learned a different way of practicing nursing," noted Reda.
And that is where she met Sandy Perloski.
"I was talking to Dr. Richard Mahfood one day. He was a member of the city board of health. He told me about an opening as a staff nurse in the health department. He knew I was looking for a change in my career and he encouraged me to apply for the health department job. From that staff nurse job, I moved up to director of nursing in 1989 at the health department, and I called Sandy and told her to consider applying for the staff nurse position. And in 1993, I was offered the city health commissioner job by the health board. I wasn't sure at first about taking the job, but the health department staff and co-workers as well as my family encouraged me so I took the job," Reda said.
It took me two years before I felt comfortable. I was learning something every day. In addition to nursing, I had to learn about plumbing, food inspections and vital statistics. And, I had to start attending Ohio Department of Health state conferences. I have learned a lot and met so many people who have helped me over the years," Reda said.
"We had several challenges in the health department, including the oil spill that moved slowly down the Ohio River. There were the floods in the lower parts of town. But probably the greatest challenge came in 2009 with the H1N1 virus. We were all dealing with trying to educate the public about the virus and then trying to get people vaccinated when the vaccine became available. It wasn't a crisis, but it was definitely a challenge," Reda said.
"Immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, we all had to learn possible health department challenges and demands. And, of course we are always facing budget demands. But, I am very proud to say we have always had the support of the public," she declared.
"I made the decision to retire because I am turning 66 years old in March and because it is the right time. There are changes coming to public health and the field is going in a different direction. I felt it was the right time for a younger person to become health commissioner," commented Reda.
Her last day at work will be March 28, and, in true Patty Reda style, she is filling a yellow legal pad with notes for her successor.
"The board of health has interviewed candidates for the health commissioner's job and I hope there is some time for me to assist with the transition. But, I am also writing down everything I know the new commissioner will need to know. And for once in my life I will not have a daily agenda starting in April," laughed Reda.
"I love to play golf, but am not that good. Now I will have time to practice my golf game. And, I am very fortunate my mother is still alive. She now lives with my sister in California and I plan to travel there to celebrate her next birthday. I plan to take life as it comes after I leave the health department," stated Reda.
"I am very proud of the Humanitarian Award I received in 2007 from the community and the Quinn AME Church. I have participated in the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Leadership Program as well as the Ohio Department of Health Leadership Program. And, I was honored to speak at the Franciscan University of Steubenville nursing candlelight ceremony. But most of all, I will always remember the support I have received from my staff, the board of health, the city administration and the city council," remarked Reda.
"I am also proud of the services we have offered the community, and the community response to our clinics for children and adults," she said.
"Leaving this job will be hard because the staff here has become like my family because we have been together for so many years. I have made so many friends during my career. And, we have all kept the citizens of this community first in our hearts and have always tried to do our best for everyone in the community and to enhance the quality of life of our residents," Reda noted.
"My father, Paul DiBenedetto, passed away 30 years ago. But I know he would be so very proud of what his daughter has accomplished.
"We were a simple people and my father, family and friends were always very supportive of us. I have been very blessed in my life," Reda stated.