Hospital center director giving back

October 12, 1997


Staff Writer

When Cynthia Miller Pellegrino walked into the Western Maryland Hospital Center in Hagerstown as its new director on Sept. 8, her life came full circle.

The 40-year-old Lonaconing native first came to the center 30 years ago to visit her grandmother, who was a patient there.

"She was very debilitated when she arrived here," Pellegrino said. "She couldn't walk."

Pellegrino said when her grandmother left the Pennsylvania Avenue center almost a year later, she was able to live independenly.

Pellegrino was deeply involved in the care of her grandmother, who often told her she should become a nurse. In 1977, Pellegrino did just that.


She began her career in intensive care, focusing on saving lives - not on quality of life. Then Pellegrino got into the rehabilitation field.

"I never looked back. It's more meaningful for me to work on the quality of life rather than the quantity of life. It's so rewarding," she said.

When she saw the ad for the Western Maryland Hospital Center job, Pellegrino was vice president of operations for NovaCare Inc.'s management and consulting division, responsible for operating rehabilitation units run by that company throughout the United States. She and her husband Michael were living in Salisbury, Md. She jumped at the chance.

"I felt like I was meant to do this," she said. "I really have had no way to pay the center back for all the caring given my grandmother. That's why I'm here - because of my grandmother."

When she got the job, it was full of firsts. Pellegrino said she is the first woman director, and the first who is not a doctor. She is from the private sector. The hospital is government-funded.

Pellegrino is in charge of about 300 "very, very caring" workers who care for about 100 people who either need long-term hospital care and rehabilitation, or a lesser level of skilled nursing care.

The center staff has been "very warm and receptive," Pellegrino said. But she said she also knows many of them have had some adjustments to make.

She too has had to adjust.

"The fact that I came here from outside the system, I think it will be an ongoing adjustment for me, so I just ask people to help me with things I don't know. I'm very open and honest about my limitations. I'm not here on a power trip," Pellegrino said.

The way she sees it, part of the center's mission is to provide a family atmosphere, and to help patients improve their quality of life - "whatever that means for them."

Pellegrino keeps a crystal ball in her office. Occasionally she gazes into it. Vision is important to her, especially in a changing health-care field.

"Times are difficult because of the environment," she said. "Health care has been changing. We have to adjust to that change, and we will do it."

Pellegrino said she brings to her new job leadership skills taught by her father, a former elementary school principal. "He also taught us we could do whatever we put our mind to doing," she said.

From her mother, Pellegrino said she learned a quiet strength. "My mother's the strongest person I've ever known. She's a two-time cancer survivor, and essentially it's a miracle that she's still here," she said.

Pellegrino has a strong belief system. "My parents taught us to believe that we're not dealt anything in life that we can't handle," she said.

Pellegrino believes everything happens for a reason.

She also believes a workplace should be run on the basis of mutual respect, and the principals of The Golden Rule.

Pellegrino also believes strongly in the Western Maryland Hospital Center. Chief among her goals is "to ensure the longevity of the facility," which state officials have threatened to close in the past. "The center is needed. We need to let people know what good is done here," she said.

In her spare time, Pellegrino enjoys reading and the outdoors and ... sports. She follows pro football and baseball and college basketball and high school sports of every kind.

"I can watch six games in a day," she said.

Pellegrino's husband Michael is owner of MEDIArt, a firm that produces videos, digital graphics, photos and Web page designs. He is also webmaster for an online commerce company in Hagerstown.

The couple lives in Smithsburg with their "kids," cats NYCK and Spatz, and black Lab Parker.

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