VHS team member supports local families at holidays

It’s the season of giving, and Virginia Health Services is supporting a team member’s efforts to make the holidays brighter for community members.

Shawn Hill, the assistant activity director at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, is collecting donations to help area families have a happier holiday. He has set out donation boxes at Coliseum in Hampton and the Employment, Enrichment and Education (EEE) Center in Port Warwick.

He started his holiday help program three years ago.

“I was just looking at everyone (at his family Christmas) giving gifts, cheerful, thinking ‘something is missing.’ What about giving to someone who really needs it?” he says.

donation box decorated for Christmas in the Coliseum lobby
Donation box in the Coliseum lobby.

His friends, family and other contacts are providing names of families who could use the assistance.

“People have been calling and emailing – I’m already trying to put families and things together already,” he said.

Shawn is collecting items mostly for preteen children and their mothers. He suggests gift cards or items like toys and warm socks. Whatever he collects will be delivered to those in need – “I’m going to go give them all out; even to some child, some parent out there in a shelter,” he says.

He said each year he tries to step up the number of donations and families his work supports.

Shawn graduated from the VHS apprenticeship program as a nurse aide in July. He transitioned to activities assistant the end of November.

“I love people. I love helping,” Shawn says. “I’ll do anything for them to be happy. I’d give them my shirt. My grandmother raised me like that.”

How to help

What’s being collected: Toys, socks and other comfort items, and a variety of gift cards (such as Wal-Mart, Target, grocery stores, Amazon).

Donations can be made at:

  • Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 305 Marcella Road, Hampton, Virginia 23666
  • EEE Center, 2140 William Styron Square S., Newport News, VA 23606

Assisted Living dining managers ready to pull out all the stops for the holidays

Residents and their families have the opportunity to share the holidays together thanks to the dining services teams at The Huntington and The Hamilton Assisted Living communities.

Hamilton’s Dining Services Manager Nicole Freeman and Huntington’s Dining Services Manager Annette Stringfield have listened to the Residents’ requests and are prepared to host traditional Thanksgiving dinners.

“We’re going to create a feast for them,” Nicole says. Family members were asked to RSVP if they were attending Thanksgiving lunch with their loved ones.

The Hamilton’s menu includes sliced turkey with gravy, collard greens, stuffing, candied yams, mac and cheese and glazed baked ham. The Huntington has a similar menu, adding turkey wings.

“They want traditional for Thanksgiving,” Nicole says. For Christmas, the Residents change up their wants. “Sometimes it’s lasagna, sometimes ham.”

And on New Year’s Day, the spread is consistent Nicole and Annette say: Pork (ham), collard greens, black-eyed peas and cornbread. At the Hamilton, you might be served fried chicken too.

The assisted living Residents always have their sweet tooth satisfied. At Hamilton, there will be pecan and pumpkin pies with whipped topping, and the Huntington will serve sweet potato pie.

“I love desserts. I love food, but especially the sweets,” Annette says.

“We try to create a home-like atmosphere,” she says, “especially for the holidays and incorporate items we don’t usually have on the regular menu throughout the year.”

The dietary and nursing teams ensures Residents on specific diets have something similar and don’t accidentally wind up with something they are unable to eat on their plate.

“We watch,” Nicole says. “We’re very careful.”

Party on

There also are holiday parties that will have special buffet-style spreads for families and Residents at both assisted living communities.

The Huntington, and Residents at adjoining The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, will have a dinner buffet that’s open to families and enjoy a performance from Scoundscapes on Dec. 14.

On Dec. 16, The Hamilton and adjoining York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center will have a party with heavy hors d’oeuvres with invited family.

Be our neighbor

Our assisted living communities provide a safe environment when you start to need extra assistance with your healthcare needs.

You and your loved ones will have peace of mind knowing our nursing team is available 24/7 and that your apartment is equipped with bathrooms designed for safety and ease, and a wander-guard system.

Visit us at vahs.com/seniorliving to learn more about our communities and schedule a tour.

Q&A with Arbors Chef: Holiday Edition

The holidays evoke food-specific memories for everyone. We talked with Chef Akira Johnston at The Arbors Independent Living about how to create those memories for Residents.

Q: How do you conceive menus that consider resident traditions? Some Residents before moving in likely hosted holiday gatherings before and now are dependent on your team.

Chef: I just listen. That’s it. I always come to work every day with that concept. These residents are opening their homes for us to essentially work. So when I do my holiday menus, I ask, “What would you want to see on a traditional Thanksgiving menu?”

[There was a meeting with Residents to discuss, among topics, holiday menus.]

Then I try to introduce my creativity to their suggestions.

They said, “we want traditional Thanksgiving food,” which meant unsmoked turkey, mashed potatoes, yams and homemade mac and cheese. They also asked if they could take a meal to go.

I try to just listen to what it is that they want or what they want to see, because sometimes, you know, they could be spending the holidays alone. Their families could be on the side of the country. Some even on the other side of the world. So, it’s like what can we do to make this feel homier for our Residents?

Chef Akira Johnston in chef whites holds a plate of food.
Chef Akira Johnston is ready to serve up tasty holiday fare at The Arbors.
Q: What do holiday menus mean to you?

Chef: I think of good comfort food, something that you’re going to eat a plate of and go for a nap. If they aren’t sleepy by the time they leave the dining room, my job is not done.

I think of good comfort food when I think of the holidays because (the Residents) look forward to this; sharing a meal with your family and your loved ones. Some people, they’ll watch what they eat up until the holidays. It’s time for them to splurge in family time and splurge when it comes down to food.

Q: What types of dishes offer that holiday comfort?
Roasted duck breast, sliced and plated with sweet mashed potatoes and broccolini.
One of Chef Akira’s favorite menu items for the holidays is duck.

Chef: Oh my goodness. They, they want stuffing. They want homemade mac and cheese. They want candied yams. But I also have Residents who love other things, like fish. I don’t want them to be excluded from the holiday fun. I am adding a salmon dish on Thanksgiving and short ribs.

[Chef also gets to know the Residents by working on the line, understanding the orders and knowing the frequency of requests.]

Q: How do you decide what is holiday comfort for Thanksgiving vs. Hanukkah and Christmas?

Chef: Thanksgiving is, again, a little bit more traditional.

I feel like these dishes are already decided, but Christmas and Hanukkah gives us a little bit more of a range to be creative.

[The Arbors will host a Holiday Cheers open house each Wednesday afternoon in December and offer unique dinner specials the week leading up to Christmas Day.]

I’m thinking special menu, Christmas. This is a time to bring in all these great, fun ingredients. This is a time to show off what my team can do in the kitchen. For the Christmas week specials, we’ll have specials like filet mignon, jumbo shrimp, bring in saffron.

Lobster tail cooked and glazed with butter
Lobster will be on the Christmas menu at The Arbors.
Q: What are some “luxury” ingredients you like to pull out for special occasions?

Chef: Definitely saffron. I love saffron. I want to bring in scallops, like those big boy scallops, to run as a special. Lobster, filet mignon, prime rib, lamb chops, duck. Mm, I can keep going. Swordfish, halibut, grouper, Chilean sea bass.

Then, we can put all of our effort into executing this flawless, spectacular dish.

Oh. Yeah. We’re about to get real fancy.

Q:  Are there other ways the team makes the holidays special for Residents?

Chef: The thing that stood out to me the most is I was doing a schedule, trying to be fair, making sure we are all able to enjoy some of the holidays with our family, my team doesn’t want to hear any of that. They are willing to surrender to their time, and are like, listen, we’re ready to. So that, for one, meant a lot to me.

We know these Residents. This is a time to make meals feel less transactional and more personable.

And we try to consider their requests. They are ready for this homemade fried chicken. They’re definitely ready for the prime rib. I’ve had a Resident ask me for lamb chops since I was hired (in January). They’re also definitely looking forward to specials like lobster. Nothing says elegance to me than offering some type of lobster option, like thermidor. I want to add just a little razzle dazzle to elevate the dish.

Join us for Holiday Cheer

The Arbors Independent Living community loves to celebrate the holidays with special chef-prepared meals, events and outings. Our gift to you is a great move-in special!

See our community’s decked halls and share a cup of cheer with us! Join us for a tour during our Holiday Cheer events 2 p.m. Wednesdays in December by calling 757-844-6659 or visit vahs.com/thearbors to schedule and learn about our move-in offer.

Arbors a healthy transition for NASA Langley retiree

Maynard Sandford and his wife Nancy became residents of The Arbors Independent Living in June 2020. He was having heart trouble and the dirt he loved to play “to keep me out of trouble” was too much to maintain.

(The “dirt” was a giant yard with fish ponds and landscaping.)

“I’ve improved so much since moving,” he says.

Nancy says they both are surprised at how well he started doing after the move. He went from barely being able to walk around the block to taking 2.5-mile walks regularly.

He now manages a smaller space, taking on the landscaping for The Arbors with flower beds and hanging baskets. He also maintains a vegetable garden and supplies residents with fresh food.

“I call it the country club,” he says of The Arbors. “I’m regaining my health and keeping my wife happy.”

NASA wind tunnel

Sandford was an aerospace engineer at NASA Langley in Hampton for 35 years. He and Nancy moved to the area in 1959.

“I was there from the beginning,” he says of his placement at the TDT wind tunnel. He tested models for aerodynamics.

“There was no service for NASA employees,” he says, “even though at that time you’d expect I had been drafted. I tried to enlist and was told I was flat-footed. I couldn’t be a pilot.”

Since he was there from the transition from NACA to NASA at the Hampton campus, he did encounter the seven astronauts of the Mercury space program at the gym. While Sandford played handball, the astronauts typically gathered for racquetball.

 “I talked to them a lot,” he says.

“My job was ‘flutter,’” he says, spreading his arms out and flapping them to represent airplane wings. He gave a lot of talks to Air Force and other military officials about the results of the wind tunnel tests. They were making sure jets were safe for flight as well.

It would sometimes take months to build, test and analyze data per wind tunnel model, which often ran to be $2 million to $3 million.

He played a documentary at The Arbors on Veterans Day from his time at Langley, specifically what happened at the wind tunnel. He and the TDT team tested for all types of aircraft, including commercial, spacecraft and parachutes of the space flight modules.

Proud Papa

He retired in 1993. But his legacy at the campus continued with his son, Stephen Sandford, who spent 28 years with NASA, including as Director for Space Technology and Exploration at Langley and senior assignments at Johnson Space Center in Houston. He later published “Gravity Well” and founded a business, Psionic.

“He was a real boss,” Sandford says.

His voice bursts with pride when talking about all of he and Nancy’s three sons and six grandchildren.

They have a son who lives in Maryland and their youngest son is a Navy captain and chaplain who earned a bronze star as a Marine Corps volunteer. He has been to Iraq and Afghanistan, was at the Pentagon and is now in Okinawa, Japan.

One of his grandchildren has published a young adult book, which sits on the shelf of their living room bookcase next to “Gravity Well.”

Early years

Portrait of Nancy Sandford
Nancy Sandford

Nancy and Maynard met in high school. He attended Randolph-Macon to play football.

“I have quite a legacy there,” he says of Randolph-Macon. Two sons, their wives and one of his grandchildren all have attended (or are currently attending) the school.

Sandford says he enjoys playing tennis and regular walks. He used to hike with a friend in the Dismal Swamp regularly for 16 to 20 miles on Thursdays (until 2017). He and friends also would hike portions of the Appalachian Trail, mostly in Virginia, for about 30 years.

Now he enjoys walks around Port Warwick and nearby areas.

Be our neighbor

Does a maintenance-free lifestyle with chef-prepared meals sound enticing? We are offering a holiday move-in special and tours during our Holiday Cheer events 2 p.m. Wednesday in December. Call 757-933-2621 to reserve your space or visit us at vahs.com/thearbors to learn about the community and schedule a tour.

Newsweek Best Nursing Homes 2023 honors featured in local publications

Media coverage of three Virginia Health Services nursing and rehabilitation centers is below. Coliseum, James River and Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers were included on Newsweek’s Best Nursing Homes 2023 list, released on Sept. 28, 2022.

Daily Press/The Virginian-Pilot Business Notes for Nov. 14, 2022


Gloucester Gazette-Journal brief (Nov. 9, 2022)


Peninsula Chronicle: Three Local Nursing Homes Make Newsweek’s List For Best Nursing Homes For 2023 (Oct. 28, 2022)


Apprentices share VHS experiences over past year

In honor of National Apprenticeship Week (Nov. 14-20, 2022), Virginia Health Services is featuring two apprentices who have truly embraced what it means to develop a career within the organization.

Our earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program graduates Care Assistants to Nurse Aides. The six-week course includes classroom and clinical experience. After graduation, our education team provides review sessions leading up to the state certification exam to be a Certified Nurse Aide (CNA). The program covers the cost of the exam, and our apprentices become team members at our seven nursing and rehabilitation centers.

The apprentices featured below are just two examples of how the program is a foundation to career development within Virginia Health Services.

Community care

Shawn Hill was a member of our July 2022 class. He has been working as a Nurse Aide at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Soon he will start as the Assistant Activities Director at the facility. Below, he shares his experience in his own words.

Portrait of Shawn Hill
Shawn Hill graduated in July and will start as assistant activity director at Coliseum on Nov. 28.

I was a caregiver without a medical education. The apprenticeship program let me learn the skills I need to provide the proper care an individual deserves.

When I saw the earn-as-you-learn opportunity, I knew I couldn’t miss it! I stepped out on faith and applied. I was nervous, but I got the call!

My whole life changed because I am doing something I really want to do. My passion for people and helping others is on display daily. I dedicate my time outside of work to helping others as well.

My opportunities within VHS continue to expand. I’m excited to share I will start as an activities assistant at Coliseum on Nov. 28.

Serving the community inspires me. I have a nonprofit back-to-school event annually, I coordinate Christmas giveaways to families in need and much more. What I say to everyone, “If you are going to do a job, do a good one.”

Adding on certifications

Valentina Zakieva is a CNA/RMA at York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She graduated from the apprenticeship program in February 2022. At graduation, VHS Director of Education Princess Henderson called Zakieva her “ball of energy. None of us moved fast enough for you!” Valentina shares her journey with VHS below.

Portrait shot of Valentina Zakieva.
Valentina graduated the apprenticeship program in February and works at York.

The apprenticeship program with Virginia Health Services completely changed my life. I started in the dietary department, then enrolled in the earn-as-you-learn program to become a Nurse Aide. I passed my certification to CNA, and recently received my Registered Medical assistant (RMA) certificate.

I’m not stopping there. My goal is to become a RN.

It was an honor to be recognized at York as Team Member of the Year. I also was nominated as Apprentice of the Year in September. I work hard daily to justify the hopes placed on me. VHS has provided me the opportunity to thrive.

I am thankful for excellent teachers who imparted as much knowledge as possible on us and taught us skills until we got them precisely right.

I am here for the Residents. Seeing their smiles means the day is not lived in vain. I try to provide the compassionate care anyone would want to have for their loved ones.

I don’t regret moving to the U.S. three years. Everything is possible when you do it with love.

Join our team

We will start accepting applications for our January class on Dec. 5 at vahs.com/careers. The class will begin Jan. 23, 2023. Please look for the Care Assistant job description to apply.

Navy veteran and wife learning to downsize at The Arbors

We love having veterans call The Arbors Independent Living home.

Jack Jeffords and his wife Anne looked at several places in Newport News and York County before settling in a two-bedroom apartment at The Arbors.

“We preferred this so we came here,” he says, saying that being so close to shopping and doctors were determining factors.

He knew residents at The Arbors well before he and his wife moved in. A big bridge fan, Jeffords would come to play once or twice a week.

“We like the people here – we’ve met a lot of residents over the years and enjoy the people we meet,” he says. But they are fairly “self-contained” and enjoy reading and writing in their sunny apartment.

In the Navy

Jeffords served in the Navy for 25 years. The veteran was in a fighter squadron in Vietnam and entered the Navy as an aviation electronics tech. He retired as a Lt. Commander in 1978, and left the Navy to avoid moving his family to the Washington, D.C., area to work at the Pentagon. He was a Naval officer for 15 years.

“I enjoyed the Navy, but would have missed out on everything else (if I hadn’t retired), he says.

He obtained a master’s in engineering from Old Dominion University and a law degree from William and Mary. While he and a friend opened a practice, Jeffords primarily worked for a software company and began teaching full time at ODU in 1989.

He retired from being a full-time professor at Old Dominion in 2005 and published a textbook a few years later. He continued to teach at ODU part time until 2020.

“A lot of my work involved computers,” he says, including at aviation officer school in the Navy. “My wife won’t touch a computer.”

Learning to downsize

He and Anne have six children – three each from previous marriages – and nine grandchildren. They returned to Hampton Roads about five years ago because they wanted to downsize and one of their sons lives nearby.

“Grandchildren are scattered all over,” he says.

It’s been a challenge going from a four-bedroom home to a two-bedroom apartment.

“We’re still trying to figure that out,” he says with a chuckle.

Growing up, his family lived in Texas, Chicago, upstate New York and New York City before Jeffords enrolled at the University of Virginia, about 70 years ago.

He met Anne there while she was attending Longwood, but it was 16 years before they married. It was 1966 that “really brought us together,” he says. They had previously kept in touch via Christmas cards. They’ve been married for 53 years.

“Anne never left Virginia” – she is originally from South Boston – and taught elementary and high school, and at Tidewater Community College.

Before the pandemic, Jack and Anne enjoyed traveling and would spend a lot of time visiting their children on the West Coast and weeks at a time in Florida.

Mr. Jeffords is a graduate of the University of Virginia and proudly displays the Cavaliers’ colors throughout the home.

Jeffords also enjoys going to U.Va. games – best during the George Welch era.

“It certainly has been an interesting life,” he says.

One of Jeffords current projects is genealogy. He wrote a biography of his brother for his grandchildren so they could get to know him since he passed. An Army vet, Bob Jeffords was a unit production manager on shows including “Murphy Brown” and “Spenser for Hire.”

Class of 9 graduate to Nurse Aides with Virginia Health Services

Virginia Health Services welcomed nine new Nurse Aides to its ranks Friday with the graduation of its most recent class of Care Assistant apprentices.

The earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program places Care Assistant students in the classroom and on the floor for clinicals for about six weeks before their graduation to Nurse Aides. The program also covers the cost of the certification exam to be a Certified Nurse Aide (CNA).

Instructor Nora Gillespie, RN, and Director of Education Princess Henderson, BSN, RN, said the nine women came together to form a sisterhood.

“They had each other’s backs,” Nora said.

The graduating class was: Daniesha Anderson, Latoya Eley, Elvia “Roxy” Harris, Krystal Jones (valedictorian), Darlesia Mauro, Tierra Nared, Amie Poe (salutatorian), Alexcia Pridgen and Ty’Zanae Sills.

They were joined by friends and family for the ceremony at The Arbors Independent Living and then a reception with cake at the education center.

VHS Vice President of Operations Don Lundin opened with remarks, saying, “We are all here to support what you are doing. This is a big step in your careers. The work that you do makes a difference in people’s lives.”

The class

To graduate the apprenticeship class, students must pass 14 tests and learn 22 clinical skills in about 25 days.

“Nothing is easy about this class,” Nora said. “You all were outstanding. You helped each other get across the finish line – especially in clinicals.

“What you should know,” she said, turning to the audience, “is each one of them has heart and compassion. … They had purpose in all they did.”

The nine women bonded quickly and all brought skill, commitment and compassion to each day of the experience.

“This is the stepping stone for your career in healthcare,” Princess said. “I’m proud of your growth and development throughout the class.”

Princess and Nora had glowing remarks about each graduate. Trending themes were their commitment, knowing they had a sense of purpose and connection to one another and their Residents, and having a heart for compassionate care.

Darlesia earned Princess’s Champion Award, because “she’s like Rocky” and had the third highest grade in the class.

Val & Sal

Amie Poe was the salutatorian. She had perfect attendance – and early attendance, Princess said.

“She had her nose to the grindstone,” Nora said. “And she found out it this was where she wanted to be.”

Valedictorian Krystal Jones “set the bar high,” Princess said. “You worked hard for this.”

Krystal fought through tears to deliver her valedictorian address.

“Y’all broke me out of my shyness,” she said. “We pulled through and got it done. I wish the best to you all in whatever you choose to do.”

Upcoming classes

The graduates will be placed at Coliseum, Northampton, York, The Newport and Walter Reed nursing and rehabilitation centers.

Join our team! We are always on the lookout for the next class of apprentices. The next class begins in November.

Applications for our January 2023 class open Nov. 14 and will be available at vahs.com/careers. Apply to be a Care Assistant.

VHS Maintenance Team makes (everything) work

Creating home-like environments for Residents takes a team. The upkeep of each facility requires a team dedicated to working behind the scenes, changing light bulbs, checking the plumbing, and so much more.

It’s National Health Care Facilities and Engineering Week (Oct. 23-29), and Virginia Health Services is celebrating its maintenance and facilities staff. VHS operates three senior livings, seven nursing and rehabilitation centers, and maintains offices for corporate support services, VHS Rehabilitation, VHS Home Health Care and VHS Home Hospice.

Jesse Young, VHS Vice President of Facilities and Development, oversees facility maintenance. He says each building (depending on size) has a dedicated maintenance person or an Environmental Services team member responsible for maintenance tasks. There also is a traveling corporate team that handles major projects and serves as a stopgap for vacations or turnover.

There are two team members who have been with VHS for about 20 years, and several others with the team for five years or less.

“We are so dependent on what they do every day, and yet it’s very behind the scenes. A week like this is valuable recognition of the team,” Jesse says.

Maintaining VHS

Jess says skill sets can vary person to person. Someone in each building takes care of routine tasks.

“It’s a lot of light bulbs, toilet repairs, door adjustments – because of our traffic, doors take a beating,” he says.

Some of the tasks are major, and the corporate team helps handle larger-scale tasks, such as AC/heating unit replacements and boilers. The team handles a lot of plumbing repairs.

“It saves us from having to contract out all of the major items,” Jesse says.

Team members are jacks of all trades.

“For the most part, until you get to the major electrical things, it’s more being able to track an issue and think with an analytical mind. The key is someone who can do a little bit of detective work and get to the bottom of whatever it might be,” Jesse says of maintenance team members.

Some of the aesthetic work, such as painting, and some repairs also fall to EVS to balance the work of all teams.

“It works really well that way,” Jesse says.

Facility updates

The Arbors Independent Living has new carpet with a wide burnt orange stripe.
The carpet was recently replaced in the dining room at The Arbors Independent Living.

The team also manages facility upgrades, including some at The Arbors Independent Living, which opened in Port Warwick in 2003.

The carpet in the dining room has been replaced.

Some furnishings are getting ready to be replaced and some of the event furniture and banquet items are on the list for upgrades. There are some apartment upgrades as well in the works.

Join our team!

We are hiring a Facilities Maintenance Technician for Newport News and York County locations. The role is Monday-Friday. Apply online at vahs.com/careers.

VHS IT team keeps infrastructure running

Virginia Health Services’ team of 1,200 spans across multiple buildings from Kilmarnock to the Peninsula to Southside. What keeps it all connected?

Our IT team.

Global Health Equity Week (Oct. 24-28) celebrates the role information and technology play in healthcare. Teams protect vital private healthcare information, streamline care and support infrastructure that keeps systems running.

VHS’s IT team of Jon Gordon and Kathy Wickline collaborate constantly to do all of the above, and more.

Who ya gonna call?

The Virginia Health Services IT team are self-described generalists.

“We know a little about a lot,” John says. “We’re a one-stop shop. Cybersecurity is a big piece right now. We’re first responders to any work stoppage issues. All the technical stuff – ordering for most departments, hardware and software, system administration. … We wear many different hats.”

Kathy and John use their skill strengths to balance the workload and respond to any ticket, project need or emergency. They also partner with JK Technologies to consult on high-level projects, taking their recommendations and using the partnership to plan and implement solutions.

A big piece is staff education, particularly new hire training and cyber awareness.

VHS has many disciplines with IT needs, such as nursing scheduling, payroll, billing, dietary, rehab, admissions, communications and network infrastructure. It also includes equipment like servers, computers, smart phones, iPads, copiers, printers, electronic faxing and surveillance cameras.

“Those are the large pieces that move forward our company every day, grow revenue and keep our staff moving in the right direction,” Kathy says.

John adds, “We are the solutions experts for VHS.”

What we think they do! (No wands are used, just knowledge, in finding solutions to Virginia Health Services’ IT needs.)

That includes researching and testing the best, most affordable option for whatever the need might be, procuring the equipment and getting it ready for deployment. Then comes training staff and managing the equipment (and its software) once it’s in the field.

“There’s nothing left untouched,” he says. “From start to finish to upkeep.”

Kathy joined VHS in 2001 to install a local area network. John has been with VHS for almost two years. He has a background in IT in the manufacturing industry.

“We’re a team,” she says. “We can’t work without talking to each other constantly, every day.”

John says that VHS truly commits to using every piece of the resources it has.

“I really like that,” he says.

Top priority: Cybersecurity

With cybersecurity insurance up for renewal this fall, protecting VHS from hacking attacks was paramount.

“Cyberattacks have amped up in the internet world. We could not take that risk,” Kathy says. “We really needed to push going to the Cloud. Protecting healthcare information is our No. 1 priority.”

Keeping HIPPA compliant when it comes to patient information plays hand-in-hand with cybersecurity. The IT team manages multiple servers, and moving email off a physical server solution to the Cloud was necessary to keep VHS less vulnerable to hacks.

There are other measures also in place for “additional levels of protection against outside intrusions,” Kathy says.

IT cha-cha-changes

Kathy has been with VHS for 20 years. She has watched how the IT needs throughout the company have evolved and grown.

When she started, it was to install a local area network (LAN) at James River and the separate building behind it, which served as the corporate office at the time. Then the wide area network to connect the facilities.

Communication was done by pager. There was limited email and no company mobile phones. Resident files were hard copy.

Oh, how times have changed. Patient files are electronic, which makes it easier to share between services for better communication. Wifi came online in 2012 and laptops were utilized more with remote access.

Patient care became more efficient with the addition of wall kiosks on units so CNAs can chart care and have it flow to electronic medical records. Same goes for the addition of laptops on med carts.

Mobile workstations keep the nursing staff nimble and patient information updated efficiently and timely.

Electronic timecards and scheduling, more efficient billing and payroll software, company-wide email and ditching the pagers to move to smartphones – Kathy’s seen it all.

“IT is there for everything,” she says.

Now the team is gearing up to pivot everyone to Microsoft 365, which will provide collaboration tools and communication through Teams and other apps.

“We’ll be able to see changes to documents in real time,” John says.

He and Kathy already use Teams to help organize their work days and prioritize tasks and projects. It also helps them identify bottlenecks in the process.

The COVID factor

The COVID-19 pandemic shifted focus for so many things in healthcare, including technology. VHS had to invest in equipment and infrastructure to manage patient care and Residents’ mental health.

“The pandemic threw technology changes in our faces in a flash,” Kathy says. “The Residents’ mental and emotional health, that was the urgent part.”

iPads and Workstations on Wheels (WOWs) with large touchscreen monitors and webcams were deployed so they could be wheeled to a Resident’s bedside and give them a good video conference experience with loved ones via Zoom.  The WOW’s and iPads also helped with rehab assessments, and involved family in meetings and care plans.

IT purchased web cams, iPads, laptops, whatever they could.

The pandemic introduced telehealth to the company. Electronic stethoscopes, vitals machines, electronic weight chairs all aided in providing patient care when individuals were restricted to their facility.

The pandemic also proved how nimble the IT department can – and oftentimes needs – to be.

Kathy Wickline and John Gordon combine for about 25 years of experience with Virginia Health Services in the IT department.

Thank goodness for IT!

Kathy and John’s collaboration extends to building a knowledge base for IT. They manage solutions and lessons-learned in OneNote.

In addition to needing to be subject matter experts in multiple areas, John and Kathy have to be understanding of frustration levels of coworkers when something IT-related fails. Instead of being able to be proactive, they often have to be reactive. It’s challenging.

And the emails (or tickets) don’t stop.

“Technology has provided so much for a solution … a device does so much, that if one piece of it’s down (like a copier jam), that means that whole section of the building can’t be productive. So it stops. That’s where we come in,” Kathy says. “All of what we do interconnects.”

The move to Microsoft 365 will make information easier to access.

“People can lose things in email. If you put information in a spot that’s easy for people to get to, it’s more efficient,” John says.

“We need to be able to provide a solution for an issue as best we can. We always have to have backup equipment/inventory updated and upgraded and in operating condition so it can plug and play at a moment’s notice,” Kathy adds.

The more detailed an IT ticket is, the quicker a solution can be resolved.

“Anyone in IT will tell you, our lives live in detail. If you get a ticket without detail, I could come up with a separate, wrong solution,” John says. “We get things done by collaborating together. We put everything in a pot and chip away from highest to lowest priority.

“Without the collaboration, it would not work.”