1st female health commissioner wins ATHENA
By KALEA HALL
She’s been a nurse, a home health care business owner and a teacher.
She’s the first woman to ever take on the title of health commissioner for Mahoning County District Board of Health.
For these reasons and more, Patricia Sweeney was selected as the recipient of the 2017 ATHENA Award, presented by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber and The Vindicator Thursday night at Mr. Anthony’s.
“I love what I do,” Sweeney said. “To be recognized for doing work you love is humbling. “Every day, when I am in my car and head to the office, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to share my passion for population health and to serve the residents of Mahoning County.”
This is the 25th year the ATHENA Award has been given to a woman who exudes professional excellence, community spirit and who mentors other women to do the same. The 18 nominated this year make up close to 1,000 nominees over the 25-year existence of the program.
The local ATHENA Award program is considered one of the five largest in the country by the number of attendees and nominees.
To remember the 25 years of ATHENA Awards, the chamber showed past keynote speeches mixed with pictures and past newspaper clippings in a video to open the event. Helen Paes, the 1990 recipient and keynote speaker, offered an “ATHENA Reflection,” highlighting memories of the 24 ceremonies she’s attended.
“I am continually humbled to be connected with the ATHENA,” she said. “To the 25 women who have received the award, all of you represent a powerful and empowered network.”
Nominees for the ATHENA come from every work sector. This year’s included business owners, doctors and community leaders.
All are “representing the best of their fields,” Paes said.
“Even after 25 years of nominees and recipients, there’s still an abundance of talented women who deserved to be recognized,” Paes said. “It’s important to the Mahoning Valley. Let’s keep the momentum going.”
Sweeney was in shock when her named was called up to the stage at the conclusion of the event. Cheers erupted around her as she walked up to receive her award, collecting her thoughts along the way.
“Much of my path has been the result of blessings, good luck, great mentors, a few not so great mentors, and a lot of faith,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney was a nurse at St. Elizabeth Health Center before deciding to become a home health care business owner. She then earned a law degree and a master’s degree in public health. She became the first female health commissioner in 2012. Since then, her staff has increased by 21. Sweeney focused on minority recruitment and increased minority staff representation by 18 percent. Her budget has increased by $3 million without additional local tax support. Sweeney also led more than 30 community organizations to discover the most pressing public health issues in the county, then obtained grants to address those issues.
In addition to being health commissioner, Sweeney is also a faculty member at NEOMED, the northeast district director for the Ohio Association of Health Commissioners and a part of several other organizations.
“Many of us are either the first or one of the first,” Sweeney said. “Think about all off the women who forged the path for us.”