Post Gazette: These 3 sets of moms and daughters work together at a Western Pa. hospital

When Lisa Kulesa, Linda Gardner and Betty Strotz started their careers 20 or more years ago at St. Clair Hospital, only one was a mother. The last thing they imagined was that their daughters would join them one day at work.

But that is exactly what happened, and all three are delighted to share a workplace and so much more with their daughters.

Kulesa, who lives in Canonsburg, started at the hospital in Mt. Lebanon and Scott in 2007 as a “front desk girl.” She worked in several different positions in the urology department until she was offered the job of practice manager, with offices in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Her position has grown to include managing the general and thoracic surgery departments as well good co-workers.

“We rarely have to hire anyone,” she said. “St. Clair is like a family. You’re not just a number here. You get to build relationships.”

Her daughter, Cassie, got a job at the hospital as a medical records associate during college. She took the job mainly to get patient care experience  — her dream was to become a music therapist.

Last fall, her mother was talking with a colleague who casually mentioned that they were looking to offer music therapy in the psychiatric department. Cassie had recently been laid off from her job as a music therapist and jumped at the opportunity to build a music therapy program from the ground up.

In November, she started as a music therapist for inpatient and outpatient psychiatric services at St. Clair. Each group session lasts 45-60 minutes and focuses on a different topic to help patients bridge the gap between talking and communicating.

Patience was the theme of a recent session. Cassie performed and gave participants sheets of lyrics for the Mumford & Sons’ song “I Will Wait for You” and “Patience” by Guns N’ Roses. The music is a starting point for a discussion on what the songs are saying and how patients might apply them to their lives.

“I have a wide variety of music from all genres,” she said. “It’s been really awesome to be a part of building this program.”

Cassie, who lives in Wilkinsburg, holds three group therapy sessions each day. Although the inpatient program is designed to be a short stay, patients are often there longer — one for almost six months. Many patients ask to continue music therapy with Cassie after they are discharged, and often do on an outpatient basis.

While music therapy is currently only offered to psychiatric patients, she hopes to expand it to other units, including cancer, ICU and the emergency department. “There’s such a long wait there.”

“People think music is just for kids, but music benefits everybody,” said Cassie.

Despite her busy schedule, she almost always has lunch with her mother. When Cassie needs a break, she usually ends up in Lisa’s office.

“My mom helps me with everything,” she said.

Loving nursing

Betty Strotz, of Bridgeville, began her career at St. Clair Hospital in the housekeeping department. Many of her family members worked at the hospital and it seemed like a good fit. One of the managers for a department where she cleaned was impressed by Betty’s work ethic and took a chance by hiring her to be their unit secretary.

From there, she started nursing school and got her degree in 2009, after her divorce. She worked as a nurse in the cardiac ICU, then became a cardiovascular coordinator in 2021. She’s currently working on a master’s degree in nursing management at Robert Morris University.

“I love my physicians,” Betty said. “I don’t know what the future holds for me. All of my jobs have found me and I’m hoping that will continue.”

Her daughter, Riley Pawlosky, is a nursing student at Robert Morris. Growing up, she watched her mother and “all of the women in her family in health care.” Riley started as an aide in the cardiothoracic intensive care unit — the same department that her mother worked in 10 years ago.

Since Riley has a different last name from her mother, her co-workers didn’t make the connection at first. But then some remembered Betty bringing her daughter to the hospital to visit.

“I used to be sitting on the counter in intermediate medical care as a baby,” Riley said.

She is grateful to have her mother for support, not only at work, but as a mentor in her nursing career. Betty stops by the CTICU often, but her daughter still sometimes asks, “When are you coming to visit?”

Looking forward to her last year of nursing school, Riley enjoys pediatrics, a department that St Clair doesn’t currently have. So she’s not sure if she will continue to work with her mother.

Reflecting on their time together, Betty said, “It’s very strange having your child come to work with you as a baby and then have your child next to you, helping a patient.

“I feel old,” she said, laughing.

Starting young

Linda Gardner began her career at St. Clair at age 19 after a volunteer and board member encouraged her to apply. Her interview was in a trailer behind the hospital, and she aced it. She began as a secretary and enjoyed a 46-year career, working in every department except the operating room. In February 2020, the Washington, Pa., resident retired.

“I had one nurse even offer to give me $20 a week if I didn’t retire,” she said, laughing.

Her daughter, Megan Rhoades, “pretty much grew up at St Clair Hospital,” Linda said. Her husband David worked there as well.

“My mom met my dad there when he was a paramedic,” Megan said. “From there he worked in several positions until he retired after 30 years of service.”

Megan started her career at St. Clair in 2008 as a nurse’s aide in an internship program. After nursing school, she was hired as a medical/surgery nurse, then went on to become a placement practice manager. Next she took a management position in the oncology department. Despite a different last name from her parents, her co-workers quickly recognized her as “Dave and Linda’s daughter.”

Linda and Megan would sometimes meet up for a walk together during the work day. And when Linda retired, they still sometimes saw each other at the hospital.

“If we’d need a secretary, she would come down and help us out,” Megan said.

These days, Linda spends her time babysitting her grandchildren and their dogs. When her husband died last fall, Linda was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from people at the hospital.

“That’s one thing about St. Clair,” she said. “Everyone is family.”



First Published May 9, 2023, 5:30am