Paula L. Pedene, APR, Fellow PRSA, is having a difficult time trying to narrow down a low point during her tumultuous last few years working for the Veterans Administration.
“There were so many,” she says during a recent phone conversation. “The lowest part was when I realized I would probably never be able to go back to that job. I loved that job.”
Pedene was one of the first whistleblowers at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System (PVAHCS). Nearly four years later, she prevailed in her case against the organization.
PRSA named Pedene as its Public Relations Professional of the Year, which honors the person who served as an outstanding example of the best in public relations during the previous year. She received the award at the 2015 International Conference in Atlanta.
In 2010, in collaboration with Sam Foote, a PVAHCS doctor, Pedene disclosed mismanagement of fee basis funds and reported a hostile work environment to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
Two years later, new leaders at the PVAHCS removed Pedene from her public affairs officer role, which she held for 20 years, for an alleged computer infraction. As a result, Pedene spent two years in the basement as a clerk in the VA library.
Meanwhile, she heard from veterans about long waits and delays at the hospital, and became aware of issues with the Electronic Wait List. She collaborated with Foote on her own time, offering PR advice and counsel.
In 2014, Pedene won a settlement in her whistleblower case against the VA with the help of her employee representative, Roger French.
Pedene has also faced other challenges during her life and career. In 1993, doctors diagnosed her with retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary eye disease that causes blindness. She has 10 degrees of vision in each eye, which is only one-tenth of what a person sees with his or her 90 degrees of vision.
A Navy veteran, Pedene has served as Chair of the PRSA Health Academy and on the PRSA Phoenix Chapter Board. Most recently, PRSA named her as Chair of the Western District, where she is a liaison to 11 PRSA Chapters with more than 2,000 members across five states.
During her career, Pedene has earned three Silver Anvil Awards, along with more than 80 other government and nongovernment awards. She also created two nonprofit organizations — the Veterans Medical Leadership Council and Honoring Arizona’s Veterans.
I recently spoke with Pedene, who now runs her own agency, about what transpired at the VA and the challenges of standing up for what she believed in.
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