Skip to Content

Bench Memorializes VA Kidney Care Champion

Three women behind a bench
Patti Salai’s former co-workers, from left, Kathy McDonnell, Patty Nicoletta and Marlene Van Buskirk, stand behind the bench dedicated to Salai’s memory at the Mason’s Pavilion.

A VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System nurse practitioner who helped lay the groundwork prior to her retirement in 2017 for the 2020 formation of a dialysis program to shield Community Living Center (CLC) patients from COVID-19 will forever be remembered on the H.J. Heinz III campus in O’Hara Township.

Friends and family of the late Patricia “Patti” Salai purchased and dedicated a park bench in the Mason’s Pavilion in her memory in October 2021.

Salai, 65, of Hunker, Pennsylvania, died in November 2020 of COVID-19 complications. She served Veterans at VA Pittsburgh for 30 years as a nurse practitioner in the nephrology department, retiring in July 2017. Former co-workers described her as a strong supporter of programs to improve the health of Veterans with kidney disease, including VA Pittsburgh’s pioneering CLC dialysis program.

“She was a remarkable woman, a caring provider and wonderful friend,” said Marlene Van Buskirk, also now retired.

Van Buskirk credits Salai with helping to establish the CLC’s on-site dialysis program in April 2020, during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Based at the CLC, the program eliminates the need for Veterans to travel across town to University Drive for dialysis. Eliminating travel reduces Veterans’ risk of exposure to COVID-19. The program was the first of its kind among VA’s 170 medical centers nationwide.

Salai, nephrologist Dr. Paul Palevsky and other staff had been working to create the program prior to the pandemic. The groundwork they laid allowed VA Pittsburgh to implement the program quickly when it was most needed.

Van Buskirk said although Salai retired before the program was established, “we did celebrate it before she died.”

Palevsky met Salai when he started at VA Pittsburgh in 1989. He was immediately impressed with her nursing competence and patient-centered approach toward Veterans health care.

“She was a leader in the local nephrology nursing community and a (committed) educator,” said Palevsky. “In many ways, she was the heart of the VA Pittsburgh kidney program.”

Palevsky said the memorial bench serves not only as a tribute to Salai and her work to improve Veterans health care, but it also provides a place for staff to reflect and grieve her loss.

Those who stop by to remember Salai will see the inscription on the bench which reads “In Loving Memory of Patti Salai, Renal Nurse Practitioner, Serving Those Who Served.”

“That her life was cut short by COVID was so unfair; it felt like I had lost a member of my own family,” Palevsky said. “Having this bench with an inscription dedicated to Patti will at least be a small tribute to her.  May her memory be a blessing to all who knew her.”

See all stories