WARREN — Cindy Russo’s entry into health care and career trajectory in the field has been marked by moments of her listening to good advice from good people and making meaningful relationships that opened the doors to new opportunities.
From a 17-year-old in high school following the advice of her guidance counselor, to being nudged by a supervisor into a nursing management role, to a friendly conversation that later led to a job offer with Steward Health Care here in the Mahoning Valley are points in her history Russo highlights as formative.
“You just think of all the connections you make and why for me it’s so important to develop those relationships and have good networks … I just have had really good mentors and making those connections has helped me in my career trajectory, as well as finding new places and new opportunities,” Russo said. “It’s always something I say to myself I want to be able to do that for others, too.”
The latest opportunity to present to Russo was the role of president at Trumbull Regional Medical Center, a position she took over July 1.
Russo, 63, of Vienna, recently sat down with this newspaper as she becomes more and more acclimated to having the corner office.
She joined Steward Health Care in 2021 as chief operating officer for the Ohio and Pennsylvania Region with already more than two decades of experience in hospital and health care leadership.
In that role, Russo was responsible for departments such as lab, radiology, pharmacy, some outpatient services, facilities at Trumbull Regional and Sharon Regional Medical Center and offsite affiliates.
Being hired into that role traces back to a period of transition in her career. She was working with a job-search representative who connected her with Robert Rogalski, now Steward’s Ohio / Pennsylvania Regional president. He had been working with the job-search company.
“We had a conversation, it was great … we had a conversation (because) at that point, the position wasn’t something that was available. We were just talking about each others’ experiences and whatnot and come to find out his next door neighbor was the president at Central Maine Healthcare while I was there as COO (chief operating officer),” Russo said.
The moment apparently left a mark on Rogalski. When the COO’s position for the Ohio / Pennsylvania Region came open, he called Russo and offered her the job, she said.
Before joining Steward Health Care, Russo served in several leadership positions with the Lewiston, Maine-based Central Maine Healthcare, including interim president and chief operating officer. In addition, she previously served as president and chief administrative officer of Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, Mass.
She spent most of her career at Hartford Healthcare in Meriden, Conn., eventually rising to vice president, patient care services / chief nursing officer and senior vice president, operations at MidState Medical Center.
Her entry into health care, more specifically nursing, was the result of a meeting with her high school guidance counselor and following that person’s solid advice.
“Many people will say from the time they are little, they want to be a nurse. That wasn’t me. I wanted to be a special education teacher … and when I was in high school and getting ready to further my education, I met with the guidance counselor who was a good family friend, too, and I went in and I said … ‘I want to start looking for schools and I want to be in special education,’ and she said, ‘No you don’t.’”
Russo asked the obvious questions — what and why?
One response, because that market would be saturated, “but more importantly, because I know you and I know the type of person you are and I think you should go into nursing,” Russo said, recounting what the counselor said at the time.
That sealed the deal and Russo set off into health care.
“For me again, that is telling. As I have gone through my career, what I have learned from is good advice from good people, and making those connections with good people and getting good advice has never steered me wrong,” Russo said.
It was another bit of good advice that pushed into the management side of health care.
“It never dawned on me to go into management, to go into leadership. I always thought I would be at the bedside taking care of patients and I said, you what, that is what I went to school for, this is what I’ll always be good at,” she said. “(But) I had a supervisor tap me on the shoulder and say I have a position open and I would like you to go into this.”
Russo took a chance and went that direction. She grew to love the work, but had to overcome the feeling at the start that she betrayed her profession.
“Like I was abandoning my patients in a way, so for awhile I kind of teetered back and forth. I did a little bit of nursing management as well as bedside nursing, but then as I thought about it more, I said if indeed this is where my skills and my opportunities take me, I have the opportunity to then influence the care of those patients and that’s when I said to myself, ‘OK, you can step away now,’ because I felt then at that point I wasn’t abandoning my patients, but I had the opportunity to influence their care in a different way,” Russo said.
At Trumbull Regional, Russo was already familiar with the operations of the hospital and new the job of president, but there’s still a learning curve.
“I have served in the capacity of president / CEO for several hospitals, a couple of home care agencies, but this market is different, this community is different and that’s where I think my learning curve is — to learn the community, our physician base more than I ever knew before,” Russo said. “I think that is important, I think it’s really important the hospital plays a very important role in the community, and as the leader within that organization to have a connection to the community is really important.”