Delivery of Care

The heart and soul of nursing

When the longest tenured nurse retired from Women & Infants after 59 years, her message was: as a nurse, it was teamwork that made the big difference – “Everybody has each other’s back”

Photo by Richard Asinof

Giovanna "Jenny" Todisco cuts the first slice of her cake at the celebration of her retirement after 59 years working as a nurse.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 8/5/19
The retirement by Giovanna Todisco after 59 years of nursing at Woman & Infants Hospital [and its predecessor, Lying In Hospital], offered a profound statement about the power of nursing as a culture of caring and teamwork.
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If women hold up more than half the sky, nurses hold up more than three-quarters of the health care delivery system. “That’s true,” said Giovanna Todisco, at her official retirement party. The outpouring of affection for Todisco by her colleagues revealed a fundamental truth: as health care becomes more and more a commodity, the teamwork approach by nurses as a culture of caring for patients needs to become more respected. And, the nurses need to have a seat at the decision-making table.


PROVIDENCE – It was the kind of good news story that drew a slew of TV cameras and made the front page of The Providence Journal. After 59 years, Giovanna “Jenny” Todisco, a nurse in the Emergency Department at Women & Infants Hospital, was retiring, the longest tenured nurse employed at Care New England.

The gathering included two tables of family and friends and two more tables with a host of nursing colleagues, flower arrangements on the tables that said, in golden letters, “Goodbye tension, hello pension,” and a big cake from LaSalle Bakery, covered with flowers and the words, “Thank You, 59 Years.”

When Todisco entered, she went around and hugged and kissed everyone; even Providence Journal photographer Kris Craig got a kiss from Todisco, as he was sandwiched between former colleagues, many of whom were wearing custom-made t-shirts, proclaiming, “The legend has retired.”

A profession of caring
When Todisco graduated with a Licensed Practical Nurse degree from our Lady of Fatima nursing school in 1960 [a nursing school that closed earlier this year], she immediately went to work at what was known as Lying In Hospital, before it became Women & Infants Hospital, before it became part of Care New England, to begin a career in what she called the profession of caring.

Todisco spoke about her approach to delivering care with ConvergenceRI: “I think that when people come to a hospital, they’re nervous, not knowing what to expect, and [it’s important] when someone goes to their room, and talks to them, with a caring voice,” she said. “It makes a big difference. I always put myself in their place: how would I like to be treated?”

For an interview with ABC6, Todisco retold the story about how a patient had come to name her baby after Todisco, calling her Giovanna.

“The woman who named her baby after me, it was one of the most special moments in my life here,” Todisco said. “I took care of her in the labor room, and she named her baby after me.”

Years later, Todisco continued, the woman came back to the emergency room, for an exam, and she told Todisco: “You’re the nurse that I named my baby after.” The woman then told Todisco: “My baby is named after you because you took such good care of me.”

For Todisco, it was a special moment. “I will never forget that.”

Other nurses at the ceremony recalled how when a patient named Giovanna came to Women & Infants to deliver her own baby, the nurses immediately made the connection, and introduced the woman to the nurse she had been named after. Call it the circle of life.

As one of her colleagues said about Todisco: “Each and every day, you have to remind yourself why you became a nurse. And, for me, it’s very easy. I got to work with Jenny. I got to watch what she did everyday.”

Great teamwork
When asked about why so many other nurses considered her a legend and an inspiration, Todisco attributed it to what she called working culture at the hospital: “Great teamwork. I work with a great, great, special group of girls. Everybody has each other’s back. That’s the way it should be – it’s teamwork.”

Tracey Casala, the senior nurse director, who has supervised Todisco for the last 15 years in the emergency room, called her the “heart and soul of nursing.”

Beyond the feel-good emotions, the story of Todisco’s retirement was a history lesson about the health care delivery system covering its evolution over the last 60 years, and with it, some important lessons for those that now occupy the corporate boardrooms, where all too often, nurses do not have a seat at the table when decisions are made.

And, perhaps, a lesson for Gov. Gina Raimondo to listen to and to heed, after her failed attempt to broker an arranged marriage between Lifespan, Care New England and Brown University failed.

As exemplified by the outpouring of appreciation by her colleagues, Todisco represented a culture of caring where teamwork was an integral part of the delivery of services, where the needs of the patient came first.

Many of the nurses attending the ceremony honoring Todisco told ConvergenceRI that it was true, when they heard that Care New England had withdrawn from the arranged marriage with Lifespan, they had erupted with a spontaneous burst of applause and cheering.

Some, who had worked both for Lifespan and Care New England, said that there were two different cultures when it came to patient care by nurses.

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