When an employment agency in Chicago set up a job interview for a high school graduate named Aggie Scaletta, they gave her a pair of white gloves to wear with her business suit, and a folded newspaper to carry under her arm. “A young woman needs to look professional,” she was advised.
This was in 1963, and whether the gloves or the newspaper had anything to do with it, Aggie nailed the interview and was hired on the spot. Her new employer was the American Hospital Association, and, as it turned out, the AHA was not just the first place she would work, it was the only place. This month marks Aggie’s 50th anniversary at the AHA.
In September in this space, we ran a Q&A with Pinky Pinkerton who had just celebrated five decades as a nurse, head nurse and case manager at St. Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown, Ohio. The interview was part of our Generations in the Workplace series, which found, among many other things, that longtime employees — really longtime employees — are rare today and will be rarer still in the decades to come. That’s because Gen Xers and millennials have different career and lifestyle goals than baby boomers and pre-boomers and tend to change jobs much more frequently. While that’s not necessarily a terrible thing, shouldn’t we recognize and value veteran staff members who bring a deep understanding of and loyalty to our own organizations?
You may know Aggie as Aggie Abbinanti — a name she acquired in 1966 when she married Frank Abbinanti, a fellow Chicagoan she still calls “the love of my life.” Over the years, she’s met thousands of people in the hospital field through her work at the AHA and its subsidiaries, including Health Forum. Health Forum produces Hospitals & Health Networks and the e-newsletter you’re reading right now, H&HN Daily. Aggie was around before there was such a thing as an e-newsletter, or an e-anything else for that matter. Heck, Aggie was around before computers or cellphones or emails or apps or tweets or the unending avalanche of YouTube videos of precocious cats and hip-hopping tots. It’s a safe bet she never thought she’d be the center of attention in something called a blog in the weird, new realm of social media.
Aggie started out preparing classified ads for the AHA’s journal, which was known simply as Hospitals back then, typing the copy on a bulky old clackety-clack upright, cutting out the ad copy, moving it around on page layouts to see how it would fit best, and pinning it down with straight pins. It was a time-honored, hands-on method only those of us who’ve been in publishing a long, long time can remember.
Since then, she’s gotten proficient with each new iteration of workplace technology, and she’s held a variety of jobs, including selling exhibit space for the annual Health Forum/AHA Leadership Summit. You might have met her that way or at one of these organizations’ conferences where she has helped to greet and guide attendees. A lot of organizations boast about their customer service, but Aggie pretty much defines the term, with a genuine concern and natural warmth that disarms even the most buttoned-up health care professionals.
Aggie’s tenure at the AHA has been interrupted a few times: once in the mid-’60s to fulfill her dream of traveling around Europe; once to give birth to her son Frankie; and once to help Frankie adjust to going off to school everyday. She was always enthusiastically welcomed back into the AHA fold.
The past year or so has been tough sledding for Aggie. She was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and underwent a grueling treatment regimen that included chemotherapy and radiation. Amazingly, she continued to work from home via phone and computer, and even sold out the exhibit space for the most recent Leadership Summit in July. A few weeks ago, she was back in her cubicle not far from me on the seventh floor of the AHA’s Chicago office. She looked way too pale and thin, but her spirit was undiminished. When her floormates held our usual carb-and-sugar fest to mark her 69th birthday, she was touched and tearful. Asked if she ever intended to retire, she said she loved her work and the people she works with. Yes, she was giving retirement some consideration, but wasn’t quite ready to turn in her keycard just yet.
Aggie hates surprises, so I had to tell her I was planning to write a blog about her 50-year milestone. After we talked, she sent me “some thoughts” to, in her typically self-deprecating words, “include or not include, whatever you think is best.” Here’s what she wrote:
“My outlook on life is different than before breast cancer. I have an appreciation for all the new research in cancer and feel confident that my grandchildren will have an easier time with their generations of health care. It is a blessing to appreciate more in life now … conversations with loved ones, walks and talks with God, stepping out of the box to work with other breast cancer survivors. The journey is not over, but with positive energy, I believe I can glow from within.”
Last week, Aggie unexpectedly returned to the hospital for more treatment, alarming news for her family, the many friends she’s made throughout the health care field, and her colleagues at Health Forum and the AHA. But we’re all sending positive energy her way and looking forward to celebrating her extraordinary half-century here.