On October 30, 2020, a beloved and respected nurse retired from McLean Hospital.
Cindy Ruscitti, MSN, RN, the Older Adult Program’s nurse director, started working at McLean as a staff nurse on December 3, 1975. And—fortunately for its staff and patients—she continued to work at McLean for more than 44 years.
“I had the pleasure to work directly with Cindy when I first came to McLean,” said Linda M. Flaherty, RN, PMHCNS-BC, senior vice president of Patient Care Services at McLean Hospital. “I have always been impressed with her knowledge, her deep commitment, and her care for the older adult patient. I very much appreciated her dry wit as well! She will be deeply missed.”
Becoming a nurse was a childhood dream for Ruscitti.
“My aunt was a nurse, and my uncle was a doctor—and I really looked up to them,” said Ruscitti. “I romanticized the idea of becoming a nurse, picturing myself wearing a cap and uniform while taking care of patients early in the morning. I thought it was so cool.”
She began her pursuit of a nursing career in earnest while still in her teens, becoming a nurse’s aide at a nursing home in her hometown of Norwood, Massachusetts. She then went to the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, where she graduated with a bachelor’s in nursing in 1975.
Ruscitti received calls from quite a few hospitals, including McLean, that were interested in hiring her as a first-year nurse. While she did her due diligence by interviewing at all of these hospitals, her heart was set at the outset on coming to McLean. Aside from being drawn to McLean by its reputation, she was intrigued by the idea of developing relationships with patients to help them improve their mental health.
She started working during a time when nurses could develop clinical relationships that lasted much longer than today. Some of the older adult patients she worked with—referred to as “the elders”—were at McLean Hospital for decades. Ruscitti developed an especially close relationship with one such patient who was at McLean for her 100th birthday.
“I loved her,” said Ruscitti.
She started working with older adults at McLean in 1975 and continued to work with this patient population until the day she retired. She said that she was nervous on her first day, but she soon showed that she was in the right place.
“I was really scared,” she said. “I was brand new, but I wanted to learn. And I did learn a lot.”
Her extraordinary clinical skills combined with her dedication and compassion made Ruscitti a model clinician and colleague. Nursing was her passion, not just her job. Colleagues wanted to work with her. Patients wanted to be cared for by her.
“As Cindy moves on to new and exciting adventures, she leaves us with her wisdom, compassion, integrity, kindness, and standards of excellence in providing clinical care,” said Joan M. Gillis, MSW, LICSW, a senior clinical team manager at McLean’s Geriatric Psychiatry Inpatient Services. “Cindy’s temperament was the perfect fit for geriatrics. She treated each patient as family, providing the care she would want for her parents. Cindy always went above and beyond to make patients and families feel welcome and comfortable.”
She was ahead of her time in her advocacy of having patients be an integral partner in their care. Ruscitti felt that a hierarchical model of care, with the clinicians at the top and the patients passively at the bottom, was insensitive and ineffective.
“I feel like I was able to shape a lot of the philosophy of the program,” she said. “I wanted it to be a caring, empathetic environment, and I wanted to put the patients first.”
She also worked toward eliminating stigma. She encouraged staff to not label patients with their diagnosis or characterize them in a negative light but to focus instead on their strengths.
“I don’t want to hear that somebody’s needy. We’re all needy,” explained Ruscitti. “I don’t want to hear that somebody needs attention. We all want attention. I don’t like it when we get judgmental around patients.”
In 2002, Ruscitti earned a master’s in nursing from Fitchburg State University. Her particular interest at Fitchburg was studying the impact of inpatient suicide on nurses. This focus led her to become an important resource for nurses like herself who have been a witness to patient self-harm.
It also compelled her to become a stalwart advocate of prevention. She relentlessly instructed nurses to adhere to safety protocols, especially safety checks, noting that we aren’t offering comprehensive care if safety isn’t a priority.
“I have always been impressed with her knowledge, her deep commitment, and her care for the older adult patient. I very much appreciated her dry wit as well! She will be deeply missed.”– Linda M. Flaherty, RN, PMHCNS-BC
Ruscitti went from being a staff nurse to being a clinical coordinator (head nurse) and then to her final role at McLean, nurse director. While she was initially reticent to move away from day-to-day patient care, she found that being a nurse director has its own rewards. She enjoyed being an educator, watching her nurses develop skills and gain confidence.
Ruscitti said that the interaction with patients is what she is going to miss the most.
“I’m going to miss the interaction, the closeness,” said Ruscitti, as she started to get teary. “I don’t think you can get as close to someone like we do here in any other job. We ask people questions that you wouldn’t dream of asking, like ‘Are you going to hurt yourself? Do you feel like you’re safe? Do you feel hope? Are you hearing voices that other people don’t hear?’ We just touch people’s lives in an extremely close way.”
While Ruscitti said that she also will miss her colleagues greatly, she confessed that she is looking forward to retirement. She expects to spend a lot more time writing short stories and working on a novel, birding, and relaxing with her cats, Lady and Ethel.
McLean staff will miss Ruscitti’s knowledge, warmth, wit, and laughter. McLean’s patients will miss these things too.
“Cindy has a keen sense of humor,” said Gillis. “She used that humor in very appropriate ways to defuse tensions, build rapport, compromise, and be kind despite the stress of the job. There will never be another Cindy Ruscitti, and I will miss her deeply, but I remain happy that she has the opportunity to care for herself. She gave so many years caring for all of us. It is now her turn.”