He has a business card with his picture on it. He carries around individual’s stories about their lives, what they’ve witnessed and what they think. And he wears a tie.
Meet Trey, a 7-year-old Pomeranian who works with owner and handler Jean Nohle, the Peninsula chapter director of Therapy Dogs International.
There are 39 dogs and 32 handlers in the Peninsula chapter, which runs from Williamsburg to Hampton and Gloucester and all points in between. They also assist with events Southside, such as after the mass shooting in Virginia Beach in 2019.
“It’s rewarding work for us, for the employees, for the volunteers and for the dogs,” Jean says. “It’s a win-win situation all around.”
What is Therapy Dogs International?
Therapy Dogs International (TDI) is a volunteer organization. The primary purpose of its dogs and handlers is to “provide comfort and companionship by sharing the dog with patients in hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions and wherever else the therapy dog is needed.”
Jean says the dogs will go wherever they are needed to provide comfort.
Not all dogs are meant to be in TDI, and not all situations are meant for all dogs.
“We never force our dogs to anybody,” Jean says. “You’ve got to read your dog.”
Benefits of pet therapy
Studies have shown pet-assisted therapy benefits individuals.
“It’s been proven the dogs reduce blood pressure, heart rate, improve frame of mind,” Jean says. “They work with people who have had strokes, and the (dogs) can help (individuals) relearn movements to pet the dog or walk to a dog.”
Jean said the organization gets a lot of requests for visits to first responders, such as clinical staffs, firefighters, police officers and EMTs.
Jeff is a volunteer with Therapy Dogs International. His mother is a Resident at The Hamilton Assisted Living. He brings Auggie over frequently to visit with Residents and Team Members at The Hamilton and York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. He also makes visits to other nursing homes, including those within the VHS family, as called on.
He says it’s a great program. He and Auggie have been with the program for a few months.
TDI in VHS communities
Dogs and handlers keep to a schedule with Virginia Health Services’ communities, including The Hamilton and The Huntington Assisted Living, and Coliseum, James River, The Newport and York Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers.
“You’re making a commitment; those people look for you,” Jean says of the schedule. “For some, these dogs are their family.”
Team Members also keep an eye out for their four-legged visitors.
“They look for them, they need them,” Jean says. Trey, for example, has two nurses he races to every time he sees them at The Newport.
“We’ve been with some of our patients for a long, long time,” Jean says. Dogs and handlers have been to funerals, both to offer support to surviving family members and to help provide closure to the dogs.
“They know,” she says when someone they developed a relationship with passes. In addition to nursing homes, TDI also does work with individuals in hospice care.
Jean has been with TDI for 19 years.
“My mother had stroke and was in nursing home for four years,” she says. “I saw the volunteers, what they did for the Residents, and said, ‘I’m going to pay this back.’”
Leading the TDI chapter here is how she says she does that. She is a licensed evaluator for the dog and handler training and coordinates extreme situation training with members of the community.
She also is a trainer at Perfect Paws Pet Training.
Newport News, VA – Virginia Health Services announced today that Elizabeth Cabusora, Administrator of York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and The Hamilton Assisted Living, has been chosen by the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) as a national, future leader in long-term and post-acute care. Cabusora will join AHCA/NCAL’s Future Leaders program, a year-long program that offers training and guidance for industry professionals.
“I am thrilled to welcome Elizabeth to our newest class of Future Leaders,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL. “In the midst of a historic labor crisis in long-term care, we need to continue to develop leaders in the profession that will help us build back our workforce of health care heroes. Elizabeth and our other Future Leaders will help transform our profession for the better, and we are honored to help them develop their careers in this rewarding sector.”
Cabusora is the only representative from Virginia in the program.
“Elizabeth has clearly demonstrated her commitment to serving as a leader for the past 15 years. She has grown tremendously during the time I’ve known her and shows outstanding potential to continue on that path,” said Virginia Health Services Vice President of Operations Don Lundin, who nominated Cabusora for the program. “She is a good, kind-hearted person who always thinks of others first.”
Cabusora started at York in June 2021. She served in supervisory and leadership roles in nursing and assisted living communities, receiving her administrator’s license in 2020. She became a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) in 2005 and then earned her Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) degree. Cabusora is currently near completing a Master’s of Health Services Administration degree.
She originally is from the Philippines and immigrated to the U.S. in 2003. She says her cultural ties of respect for the elderly is the foundation of her career in long-term care.
AHCA/NCAL developed the Future Leaders program in 2004. Selected participants demonstrate both leadership potential and represent the interests of state and national long-term care providers. The program covers the latest theories and practical applications in quality management, customer satisfaction, and leadership. The year-long program kicks off with the “Future Leaders of Long Term Care in America” Symposium held each year in Washington, D.C.
The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) represents more than 14,500 non-profit and proprietary skilled nursing centers, assisted living communities, sub-acute centers and homes for individuals with intellectual and development disabilities. By delivering solutions for quality care, AHCA/NCAL aims to improve the lives of the millions of frail, elderly and individuals with disabilities who receive long term or post-acute care in our member facilities each day. For more information, please visit www.ahcancal.org.
Locally owned and headquartered in Newport News, Virginia since 1963, Virginia Health Services offers exceptional senior living and health care services. We specialize in the continuum of care from active lifestyle independent and assisted senior living communities, to skilled nursing and rehabilitation services. Our 1,200+ employees are passionate and committed to the well-being and quality care of our residents. Beyond our thoughtfully maintained communities located throughout the Virginia Peninsula, we offer a full range of personalized skilled health care, outpatient therapy, home care and hospice services by specially trained staff in the comfort and privacy of your home. To learn more, please visit our website at www.vahs.com.
We are thankful for their guidance, expertise, patience and advocacy. VHS is committed to investing in its Team Members from the start, offering an earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program that provides classroom and hands-on experience to Care Assistants. Once graduated to Nurse Aide, the program also covers the cost of the certification exam.
“They are essential to long-term care,” says VHS education instructor Nora Gillespie of nursing assistants. “They are the eyes and ears for the nurses. They spend the most time with the Residents.”
CNAs have been on the frontlines since World War I, when certified nurses’ aides with the American Red Cross worked alongside Army nurses to treat wounded soldiers.
Virginia Health Services has several Team Members who have spent years dedicated to providing care in our facilities as CNAs.
VHS relies on them to be ambassadors and help train new employees on the floor. We spoke with three longtime CNAs with Virginia Health Services about their experiences.
“Me as a CNA, it’s a calling for me. Every day I step in that door, I know that’s where I’m supposed to be,” she says.
She’s had dreams of attending nursing school and a desire to be an RN.
“At 61, I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it would be challenging,” she says. “As a CNA, I just enjoy it.”
Bonnie is a Senior Ambassador for VHS and helps train newcomers to the floor.
“You have to come in with an open heart and an open mind, and patience and respect,” she says she tells new hires. “And I think with those things working in this field, that would get you through it. … You have to have respect (for Residents and Team Members) and be willing to help.”
She says Virginia Health Services has been supportive from when she started through now.
“James River, on a personal level and on a professional level, they have always been there for me,” she says. “Once you show yourself as a worker, that means a lot to the company.”
“I like my work,” she says. “I love the stories (the Residents) tell.”
In her years at Walter Reed, she has cared for three individuals who survived concentration camps during the Holocaust. She’s learned about patents created by individuals in her care, and cared for a woman who wrote a book and signed it for Karen about her father’s time running steamboats.
“People forget that those people in the nursing center that did something that made a difference. ‘Cause you have to look at the real picture, you learn things about them that made a big difference in the world,” she says.
She works with another longtime Walter Reed CNA, Marva Hodges. Together, Hudgins says, they helped “break in” now Administrator Bryant Hudgins while he was an aide at Walter Reed.
Marva has been a CNA at Walter Reed for 39 years. “I always tell people, no, I didn’t come with the building,” she says with a laugh.
She is a restorative aide part-time, but a majority of time, she says she’s on the floor because of staffing. She’s an Elite Ambassador, and has been a senior aide on the Ward unit, and was a nursing secretary and unit secretary. As an Elite Ambassador, she had to do the restorative program and trains Care Assistants and new Nurse Aides, and assists with orientation.
“I’m really a people person, not really a desk person,” she says. “I love the patients, I like being in the mix with them.”
Marva says she can go on any unit in the building and “pretty much anyone knows who I am, just by my eyes (because the mask covers so much of her face).”
Residents matter most
To keep going in this role so long, all three said the Residents keep them motivated.
“I just love old people, that’s all. You can learn so much from them. … You see their faces when their people come in, they light up,” Karen says.
When a new hire is being orientated, Karen offers these words of advice: “Just remember one thing: They’re real people. And they did make a difference.”
Be patient, Marva says.
“Realize who you are working with. I remind them that the patient may not be able to give complete information because of their (health conditions). Learn how to talk to them, keep them calm and figure out how to redirect them.”
Carrie says the main things are the Residents and working together as a team.
“If the atmosphere is happy, they’re happy,” she says.
What drew you to recruiting? The thought of being a part of a process that helps individuals reach their career goals was one of the main reasons I was interested in getting into recruiting professionally. When I am able to make the initial connection with a candidate and follow them through the interview process, all of the way to the job offer, it is extremely rewarding to be a small part of their professional development and journey!
What makes recruiting for healthcare positions unique? I have said for a long time that any healthcare role is unique due to the fact that other people’s lives can be on the line with decisions that are being made. Healthcare positions also offer great job stability, as these positions will always be in need, regardless of the location. I also believe that in this industry you can realistically start at an entry-level position and have the opportunity to work your way up into many different specialized roles. The possibilities are truly endless within the healthcare industry!
What would surprise someone to know about your job? The constant need to know the specific legalities of each position and general labor laws. While recruiting does involve reviewing applications and conducting interviews, you always need to make sure you are following federal, state and local regulations when it comes to hiring.
Personal details: I was born and raised in New York and I have lived in the South for the past 15 years. I am a Stepmom and Dog Mom to two girls, a 10-year-old and a French bulldog. I am a true crime fanatic!
Apply with VHS
We having openings for nursing positions, dietary, housekeeping and more. View our job listings and apply to careers with Virginia Health Services at vahs.com/careers.
“To have the privilege to do something that makes you happy, and that pays your bills, that’s like the best of both worlds. I don’t know why you’d work anywhere else or do anything else,” she says.
Focus on individuals
The role allows her to focus solely on an individual.
“The thing I love about home care is it’s you and your patient one-on-one,” Funkhouser says. “That patient gets 150% of your attention, 150% of your effort and it’s just you and them. No other outside distractions or pull to your focus.”
VHS Home Health Care helps get individuals back to living their best life by providing skilled care in the comfort of their home. The home health team contracts physical, occupational and speech therapists through VHS Rehabilitation as part of Virginia Health Services’ spectrum of services.
The VHS lines of service give individuals the best access to their care needs regardless of where they live in southeast Virginia.
Because of the nature of skilled home health care, time is often determined by insurance. Funkhouser says, “You really need to pack in as much as you can in those sessions to get as much potential and gain and recovery of function as you can.”
The supervisors make an initial visit to open a care plan and create goals with the individual. The treatment plan is rolled out to the clinical team.
“Everybody is focused on giving the patients what they need. You hope that by the end of your time with them, you’ve met the goals for your patient.”
The team’s consistency allows individuals to see the same faces, “which is always better for overall patient recovery,” Funkhouser said.
Status changes can be identified and dealt with quickly when you and your team members know a patient. And the more you see them, the more they get to know you.
“When I’m with them, I give them as much as I can in the time we have,” she says.
Being a PT
Funkhouser knew she wanted to be a therapist since she was a teenager. She observed the therapists who worked with her father after he had major open-heart surgery.
That exposure to therapists in the hospital inspired her to be a therapist. She volunteered in high school and then went to school for therapy.
She spent 20 years in a hospital setting before working in home health settings a decade ago. She joined VHS Rehabilitation about six years ago and started with VHS Home Health Care a few months after it launched in 2015.
Working with VHS Home Health Care and VHS Rehabilitation put Funkhouser “in an optimal position to do what I do best, and that’s get wrapped up with the patient and get them better.”
It’s rewarding. There is independence and autonomy for the clinical team in providing quality care to the individuals VHS Home Health Care and Rehab serve.
“Here, everybody is focused on giving the patients what they need,” she says. “You hope that by the end of your time with them, you’ve met the goals for your patient.”
The passion for patients and for the job come through in Funkhouser’s voice.
“At the end of the day, I feel like if it’s a job you really like a lot, you tend to give a lot of yourself to it,” she said. “It’s just a win-win.”
The graduates are all participants in the apprenticeship program. The earn-as-you-learn program has transitioned to a hybrid classroom and on-the-floor experience. Our apprentices are employed by VHS and are placed at our nursing and rehabilitation centers. The cost of their certification exam to be a CNA is covered by the program.
The James River graduates are: Faith Barich (valedictorian), Tyonna Braxton, Triniti Brown, Emani Greene, Armoni Hendley, Josie Jayne (salutatorian) and Dynesha Redmond.
The EEE graduates are: Jazmyn George, Koreen Hill (valedictorian), Kaitlyn Mayo (salutatorian), Charles Richardson and Andrea Wright.
Congratulations to all of our graduates! We are glad to have you on the team!
Become an apprentice
Virginia Health Services offers an earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program that graduates Care Assistants to Nurse Aides. It includes classroom and on-the-floor training and covers the cost of the certification exam. The next class is slated to start Aug. 1, so be on the lookout for the job posting in late June. To apply, visit vahs.com/careers.
Peter Murphy Lewis, the host of Experience Care’s LTC Heroes podcast, has long been interested in the innovative thinking of the leadership team at Virginia Health Services (VHS).
He asked VHS President and CEO Mark Klyczek and Vice President of Strategy and Business Development Eric Gommel to share the story of how they teamed up at VHS on his show:
Strategy and Growth
When Lewis asked Gommel why he wanted to “join forces” with Klyczek, Gommel shared that he admired Klyczek’s leadership style, which he experienced working with Klyczek at a previous health system.
“He’s great at executing on initiatives, but he also approaches his work with a sense of humor,” Gommel said. “And that sort of management style really attracted me.”
The discussion shifted to why Klyczek created the role Gommel would later fill.
“I knew we had to reposition Virginia Health Services,” Klyczek told Lewis. He needed someone with the specific skill set and experience in data and analytics, as well as facilitating and executing on strategy, that Gommel possesses.
“What Eric’s been able to do is accelerate our growth and our strategic initiatives,” Klyczek said. “I can only do so much, but Eric is really able to take the ideas and things that we come up with together, and run with them, making sure that they’re executed.”
Sprints: Focusing on Key Strategic Initiatives
The podcast host was familiar with Sprints but had not heard of them in the context of long-term care before the interview.
Gommel said he faced a challenge in introducing the VHS strategic plan and initiatives that went with it. He and Klyczek began to focus on a smaller, more achievable number of initiatives.
“The idea was to break the strategic plan into digestible pieces,” Gommel said. “We started with an eight-week cycle and have moved to a quarterly cycle. We then tried to narrow down to less than 10 specific initiatives with measurable deliverables.”
Gommel said the initial strategic plan was introduced during leadership meetings. He and Klyczek listened to feedback from executives, narrowed the focus and shortened the time horizon.
“This isn’t some fancy thing that we had to buy or pay for,” Klyczek said of how he and Gommel communicate the plan and track its progress. “We just leveraged Excel. Every time we meet as a senior leadership team, everybody has to report on their initiatives.”
Gommel continues to develop new, exciting ideas with the leadership team that will guarantee Virginia Health Services’ future success as well.
“What really excites me is our future projects,” Gommel said. “Those include initiatives focused on workforce development and extending programs Mark and the team have put in place over the past year.”
This blog was written and provided by the content team at LTC Heroes.
It’s National Skilled Nursing Care Week (May 8-14)! We are spotlighting some of our VHS Residents at Virginia Health Services’ seven nursing and rehabilitation centers. Our team supports our Residents in living their best life as they age with us.
We appreciate their time and the time of their visiting families and friends who all were so open in telling their stories.
Coliseum Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
Man about town
Curtis Cofield is a man about town —or at least about Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The Newport News native uses his motorized chair to visit Residents and team members throughout the center in Hampton.
“I know everybody in here. Every day I can get out of bed, I make my rounds,” he says.
Curtis is a Vietnam War veteran and former bricklayer. He entered Coliseum about three years ago. He had a heart transplant following a massive heart attack in 2003.
“I ain’t stressing. (Not since then.) Not going to worry about it; the next time might kill me,” he says of staying calm and maintaining a routine at Coliseum.
Not only does he know the Residents and team members at Coliseum, he used to be married to a current Resident.
“My ex-wife is here too,” he says. “We’re friends. … We get along better now than when we were married!”
Curtis has a sister and one son who live nearby and visit. His other four children are “spread out across the country.”
He graduated from Phenix High School in Hampton, and lived in Hampton and Newport News most of his life. He worked as part of a bricklayer union for 29 years, “anywhere I could work.”
His father was a bricklayer and owned a business.
“The guys there taught me how to do it,” he said. “I enjoyed the work. It was a lot of fun.”
He has lost both legs by amputation since coming to Coliseum because of vascular and other issues. But being able to chat up folks around Coliseum helps him pass the day.
“I learned how to deal with it by keeping myself busy; keeping going,” he says.
She sits quietly near the same spot in the Coliseum dining room. She doesn’t like to miss the activities.
Isabel Santiago has been at Coliseum since June 2021. It’s closer to her daughter Mivia (Mimi), who visits her almost every day before going to work in the evenings. Isabel transferred there from VHS-owned Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center following rehab from a stroke. She lived with Mimi for five years before that.
“They’re keeping me busy,” Isabel says. “I do whatever they have.”
She originally is from Ponce, Puerto Rico. She first came to the U.S. when she was 14 years old in search of work to help support her family at home.
“This brave lady went to New York City at 14 by herself,” her daughter says proudly. “A cab driver checked to make sure the apartment she was going to was safe before letting her out of the cab.”
Isabel is the mother of eight. She has numerous grandchildren, and great- and great-great grandchildren.
She and her husband met while they lived in New York City. They were childhood sweethearts and were married for 52 years before her husband passed away from cancer in 2013.
“The neighborhood raises family,” Mimi said of growing up in the Bronx where everyone looked out for everyone else’s kids.
Isabel got her GED so she wouldn’t have to quit her jobs to go to school. She traveled between family in Puerto Rico and NYC. She was a social worker in New York City and helped mediate gang relations in schools.
“I enjoy relating to people,” she says.
Isabel also moved to where her children were, spending time in Texas and Florida before moving to Virginia to be closer to Mimi.
“I have friends in a lot of places,” she said, adding she really liked Texas.
She was a receptionist at a hospital in Texas, and in other health clinics. She retired at age 72.
Isabel says she is enjoying her time at Coliseum, and really likes the staff and the activity programs. She and her daughter are happy with the rehabilitation services.
“She’s doing really good here,” Mimi says.
James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Katherine Gatewood has been at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center “a long, long time,” she says, smiling. She can’t recall the date, but estimates it was around 2005.
She will be 100 years old on May 14, which she greets with a shrug.
“If I were able to go out, be more active, I’d enjoy (turning 100) more,” she says.
Katherine says she is hopes her family is able to visit for the milestone.
She was joined for our interview by her therapist Mavis, who says they do “talk therapy.”
They have been working together for about a year and a half, Mavis said.
Katherine says she was born and raised in Newport News, and a bit of a homebody in that she didn’t travel much. But she did have an active social life, she says.
She worked as a telephone operator and bookkeeper—“nothing to brag about,” she says with a shrug — and says her greatest accomplishment was raising her children.
“Raising children was the most fun, watching them grow and mature,” she says.
One son and his family live in Wilmington, N.C., and another is in Virginia Beach. He comes to visit weekly and does her laundry. Both sons call every day.
They help keep her abreast of the family, which includes one grandson and two great-granddaughters who are in college and have studied abroad in France and Italy.
Her room at James River is homey, with lots of family photos on the walls. Her sons “made the room feel like home. Guess they figured I’d be here a while,” she says with a chuckle.
Katherine’s father was a college professor and her mother stayed home to raise her. She was an only child.
Her family was the first to have a refrigerator on their block and the neighbors would come by to look at it, she says.
While she can’t recall how long she was married, she was widowed young. Her husband died at age 53. She never remarried because she says, “he was my soulmate. He was a good man.”
She developed many friendships over the years, including several friends from St. Vincent’s Catholic Church. They keep in touch now more by phone because of various health issues — “I might be in the best shape of all them,” she says.
Kind word for all
Sandra Jordan has been at James River for 12 years. She recently lost her only son, and there’s little family remaining.
The team at James River “look out for me and help me,” she says. She uses a wheelchair.
Sandra was from New York, and moved to the area first to attend Hampton University. In her first year, she met and married her husband.
“I just stayed after that,” she says.
They divorced when their son turned 18, she says, but remained friends.
“I’ve been single ever since.”
She worked as a kitchen supervisor at Sentara for 15 years and Riverside for 10 years, so “I’m particular about the food,” she says.
Sandra believes in giving a kind word to all. She tries to help her roommate when she can.
She enjoys the daily activity programs. Sandra says she enjoys bingo and the live music the most.
“It’s one day at a time,” she says.
Lancashire Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
‘The therapists are wonderful’
Aldrema McMillan has her sights set on the future—when she can leave Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center fully or partially recovered. And she knows the care she is receiving at Lancashire will get her there.
“I appreciate the therapists here,” she says. “They really worked with me to recover. Whether it’s a partial or complete recovery, I’m (hopefully) going home.”
Aldrema is recovering from a fall in which she injured her neck. She moved into Lancashire in August 2021, and hopes by this August, she will move home.
“I do like it here,” she says. She has a private room and enjoys the activities programs. She also likes having a bird feeder out of her window.
“The therapists are wonderful,” she says. Aldrema is working with occupational and physical therapists in her recovery.
She is originally from Lancaster County. While she has detoured to New York City, northern Virginia and the Peninsula, she returned to her home county for her rehab.
Aldrema left for NYC after high school.
“The journey to New York is the ultimate challenge,” she said. “If you can live there, you can live anywhere.”
It was there she met her husband, who worked for TWA and then American Airlines at airports in the Mid-Atlantic. They lived on Long Island, and she took the train into Manhattan for her job as an underwriter for New York Life Insurance.
They married in 1972 and had four children.
Her husband, who passed away in 2009, worked at JFK for 20 years before being transferred to various other airports. When she moved to the Peninsula, he remained in northern Virginia most of the time because of his work schedule.
She has seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, most of whom live on the Peninsula and come to visit.
“All a nice bunch. I enjoy them,” she says of her family.
She worked as a dispatcher for the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Department, earning awards and recognition. She retired in 2013.
“I was trying to enjoy (retirement) gracefully,” she says, until her fall. “Everything is coming back except the walking.”
Aldrema continues to work with the rehab team at Lancashire on her recovery. She’s an advocate for herself and other Residents, never hesitating to speak up.
“No sense in keeping quiet,” she says with a smile.
Mildred Clark has called Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center home for the past six years. She knows she needs the extra care the team provides, and it allows her to be close to her daughter.
“I like here,” she says. “I’ve been satisfied.”
You can usually find her coloring in her room. The pages are intricate, full of detail, and Mildred’s hand moves steadily inside the lines with fine-point colored pencils.
Before she moved to Lancashire, she said she hadn’t colored since she was a little girl. Her daughter gave her a book and she took off from there. She gives away many of her pages to family and others. Some are framed and displayed in her room.
“It’s really relaxing,” she says. “Takes your mind off of everything.”
It also, along with medication, helped her keep control in her hands from the Parkinson’s disease. She also has COPD and uses oxygen regularly.
Her coloring group at Lancashire doesn’t meet as often as it used to since the pandemic, when movement was more restricted to stop the spread of the virus. But she does get more visitors, including a 3-year-old great-granddaughter she met in person for the first time recently.
“She took right to me,” Mildred says, patting the chair, “and came right up here to color with me.”
Mildred lived in Richmond and has three children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her oldest daughter lives in Lancaster County.
She worked for a printing company in Richmond.
“It was hard work,” she says, “It’s physically hard on your body.”
After 14 years there, she retired at age 62 when social security kicked in. She moved in with her oldest daughter about 10 years ago following her divorce, then lived independently until she was in and out of the hospital too often.
“I’ve never lived outside Virginia,” Mildred says. “… I’m not a traveling woman, I don’t think.”
Northampton Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
From Civil Service to model
Marie Collins sits tall in her wheelchair, comfortable dressed with long necklaces and earrings.
She’s proud of her independence, like getting herself out of bed, showered and dressed, and making the bed to start her day at Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
Marie will be 98 in August, and her goal is to use the walker to get to her door without needing her therapist to follow behind her with her wheelchair should her legs give out.
She has been a Resident at Northampton since February 2020, and moved from the skilled unit to a single room last August. She’s comfortable, happy with the team members and rehab therapists, and pleased to not have to worry about grocery shopping, cooking or cleaning her space (though she does keep it tidy and dusts).
“I’m an active Resident,” she says. “I love it here. I like the nurses. What more could we want?”
She has even acquiesced to play Bingo, which she says she didn’t enjoy before coming to Northampton.
Marie says it’s been difficult to outlive her friends. But, “here is where my life is now. But I just have acquaintances.”
She spent nearly 45 years of her life as a secretary, and then another 20 as a senior model in several campaigns and with community fashion shows. She spent much of her career in the U.S. Civil Service, retiring in 1986.
Her husband Jim was transferred to Ramstein Air Base in Germany after they met in Texas. She eventually traveled there and they were wed in Germany in 1956. Eventually, he was transferred back to Texas.
She tried to find a job, but was turned away because “you’re an Air Force wife. As soon as I train you, you’ll have to leave. So, I showed them. I joined the Civil Service.”
They were transferred to Hampton, and she took a job at Langley Air Force Base. The couple spent two years in Istanbul, Turkey.
“I loved it, but my husband didn’t. He was in JAG, working with the local police,” she says.
They returned stateside in 1968. Jim had two heart attacks. He was discharged from the Air Force, and the couple returned to Virginia.
Even after he passed in 1970, Marie stayed in Hampton. She spent the last 18 years of her Civil Service career at Langley.
“I never went back to Pennsylvania,” she says.
When her parents passed, she sold her half of the family farm in Hesston, Pennsylvania, back to her sister. Marie’s nephew and his wife live there now, and visit about once a month when she goes to the doctor. They’re her remaining living family.
“If you’re going to live here, you’re going to make the most of it.”
Northampton Resident Marie Collins
In 1994, she sold the Hampton house. She moved into an apartment, and then to smaller apartment on the first floor in 2012.
Through her involvement with the NARFE, she became president of the local chapter, which at one point had nearly 1,000 members (“there’s a lot of retired federal workers here.”)
Her right knee started giving her trouble at 95. “Mother Nature decided it was time to slow me down.”
She wasn’t interested in getting a knee replacement at that age. After a bout with COVID, she moved into Northampton. It’s home now.
“If you’re going to live here, you’re going to make the most of it,” she said of decorating her single room as comfortable as possible.
The Newport Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
Hampton “Vince” Snidow, 82, has been a Resident of The Newport for about four years. His health prevents him from moving or speaking very much some days, but you can tell by the smile on his face when he hears his wife, Nancy, speak, he’s engaged.
Vince and Nancy married July 21, 1979, and she is still by his side daily. She visits twice a day at meal times, living nearby around Christopher Newport University.
The Snidows have been “community oriented all these years,” actively participating in their churches (North Riverside Baptist and Hidenwood Presbyterian), and with organizations such as Salvation Army, Virginia Living Museum, Peninsula Rescue Mission and Menchville House.
Vince Snidow came to the area after spending three years in the Army, and then the reserves. He worked at the Newport News shipyard for 50 years as a mechanical engineer, retiring in 2011. He worked on several projects, including submarines and aircraft carriers, but also liked working on the commercial projects.
Nancy says they attended several christenings, happily remembering meeting Susan Ford during the keel laying for the carrier named after her father.
The christenings were always “very exciting,” Nancy says, “and it was just funny when they couldn’t break the bottle.”
Vince is originally from Kentucky, and has a sister named Virginia (though she lives in Ohio). He is a Hokie through and through, sporting a Virginia Tech jersey during a recent visit. He was in the Corps at the school, and remains close friends with fellow VT Corps members.
“He keeps the postal service in business,” Nancy says of his room full of cards and tokens from friends and family, and the children from church.
Church friends and his friends from the Army and VT Corps visit when they can, Nancy says.
“Church friends have been supportive of us and kept us going,” she says.
When Nancy visits, she says she tries to stimulate Vince by playing music.
“He still remembers … he likes John Denver, Elvis, classical, bluegrass, hymns,” she says, sorting through a drawer next to his bed of CDs he’s been sent from friends.
Nancy says she and Vince love the outdoors, and they walked the Noland Trail regularly when he was well enough and volunteered to clear it on Earth Day each year.
Their charity work is focused on helping children “improve their lives,” Nancy says. Vince has a rare blood type and he donated his blood, which was used in research to help premature children and cancer patients.
“A lot of children are probably living today who wouldn’t be if it weren’t for those donations,” she says. His gift to immunodeficient patients was outlined in a Daily Press article in 2003.
The Snidows enjoyed traveling, visiting the providences of Canada and several National Parks, including Yellowstone and Yosemite.
Vince also is a big baseball fan, and roots for Reds. They traveled to see games in as many stadiums as possible, Nancy says, including Fenway Park in Boston.
“It was exciting to see the Green Monster.”
After his retirement, Vince started to show signs of Parkinson’s, which prevented the Snidows from traveling as much as they thought they would.
The team at The Newport has become family to the Snidows, Nancy says.
Walter Reed Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
You can tell he’s spent a majority of his time outdoors by his weathered hands and ballcap.
A former farmer and volunteer firefighter from Deltaville in Middlesex County, Carl Vaughan tends to the courtyard at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center almost daily.
“I do it to get outside. I’ve always been an outdoors guy,” he says.
Carl plans his garden at Walter Reed with the help of activity director Julie Boothe. They look over catalogs and she orders his seeds and supplies. The community also provides donations for the courtyard garden.
He started keeping up with the Walter Reed garden around the time of the pandemic in mid-2020. The Master Gardeners of Gloucester weren’t able to come when visitation was closed, and Carl assumed the caretaking role.
He told Julie, though, “I’m planting vegetables, not flowers.”
There are still flowers in the courtyard, but there are lots of other plants as well. Carl has planted peas, patio corn, radishes, cucumbers, lettuces, green peppers, three varieties of squash, and five types of tomatoes.
Why so many? He really enjoys a good tomato sandwich.
Carl rakes the courtyard, waters and manages the greenhouse.
He also lays net over the corn to keep the crows and other birds away.
Carl and Julie plan to experiment with other lettuces in the fall, such as kale.
York Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
Soprano & Mathematician
Virginia Wilkinson was a mathematician and a singer. She reads and does crossword puzzles daily. And she’s 105 years old.
Virginia Wilkinson is originally from Portsmouth. She’s called a lot of places home, including York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She enjoys talking with activity director Mary Garrity and appreciates the nursing staff.
“I don’t have to shop for groceries or cook here. What’s not to like?” she says.
Virginia recalls her youth fondly.
“I had a very happy childhood,” she says. “People always say only children are spoiled, but my parents taught me how to share.”
Her father lost his business during the Great Depression, which she said ended her chance to go to college.
Instead, Virginia worked for NACA —“that’s N.A.C.A., before it was NASA, N.A.S.A.,” she explains —in Hampton and did long division.
“I’ve never done long division like that again,” she said.
She was the lead soprano at Episcopal Church in Portsmouth for eight years.
Virginia was married for 62 years, and her husband worked for Seaboard Air Line Railroad in Norfolk. They were transferred to Richmond, which is where she mostly raised her son.
There are three grandsons, five great-grandsons, and two great-granddaughters. The family is far-flung to places including Norway and Texas, though her son at age 75 lives in Gloucester, within driving distance of York.
She says she enjoyed living in Richmond very much, especially the parties and other railway gatherings she attended with her husband.
“I had a wonderful time meeting all those people,” she says. “I’m a people person … I like to be with people.”
Virginia also enjoyed traveling. Following one business trip, she says her husband came home from a business trip and said, “I’m buying a new car, and you and I are going cross country.”
They traveled to the Pacific Northwest, and from the far-away look in her eye, it’s clear she enjoyed the trip. “It was a wonderful time, just wonderful.”
She reads as much as she can, currently starting a compilation of stories from Jan Karon.
Virginia was paired with roommate Joyce Tracy, who Mary refers to as a “social butterfly.”
Joyce Tracy is 87 years old, and says she’s had two strokes, which prompted her move to York. But she’s very comfortable getting around in her wheelchair, and visiting various team members and fellow Residents.
“I just do silly things,” she says. “I try to put a smile on peoples’ faces.
“I go down the hall and everyone knows my name. … I’ve decided life is too short to worry about being silly.”
Joyce spent 37 years working for NASA Langley in Hampton. She worked in the special documents department of the technical library. Her eyes sparkle a little as she remembers how she needed security clearance to deal with the documents in her care.
She also was a florist, and was able to travel many times while with FTD. She worked there “on and off, between having children.”
Joyce has two daughters who she says help take care of her and four grandchildren.
She is “a Bull Island girl,” from Poquoson.
Her husband was enlisted in the military after high school — “it was the only two years I didn’t live on the Peninsula” — before they returned and he worked in design at the Newport News shipyard.
Joyce retired in 2002. “I’m very fortunate to be as well as I am,” she says.
“This is nice,” she says of York. Her daughters also refer friends and family members looking for a nursing home to York. It’s clean, a great team. The best company (hand gesturing all around).
Virginia is the “perfect” roommate.
“I love everybody,” Joyce said. “Have good fun, that’s what life should be”
Virginia Health Services is hiring for nurses at all levels. Join a team that takes pride in its employees and values the work of nurses. Read more about the available positions on the VHS Careers page.
Virginia Health Services thanks its nursing team for its dedication to the care for its patients and residents.
Virginia Health Services is shining a light on our team members. We want to spotlight the roles our team members play to support individuals to live their best life and showcase the VHS culture. With National Nurses Day on Friday, we are highlighting James River’s Director of Nursing Peggy Evans, who has been a part of the Virginia Health Services family since the 1980s.
There is something about Virginia Health Services that keeps Peggy Evans coming back.
The elderly always has been her passion. She watched her grandparents get older, and says she wanted to make a difference after seeing her grandfather die from leukemia.
“I tried getting out of (working with elderly) a couple of times,” she says with a smile, “but it didn’t work. I wound up right back here.”
Evans left VHS the first time because her child arrived two months ahead of schedule. When she went back to work, it was with the VA as a charge nurse for spinal cord injuries. She worked with a doctor at TPMG and finished RN school.
That’s when she returned to nursing center care. She then became a trainer and after completing a computer course at CNU was traveling often. At some point, the travel between the tunnels became too much.
“I accepted for the third time with VHS and have been here ever since,” she said.
It’s the Residents and the staff who have kept her with Virginia Health Services, she said.
Evans was a trainer on the VHS education team, overseeing York, Gloucester and Lancashire. When the drive became too much — “I no longer have to fill up every week” — she returned as DON at James River in February 2021.
It was a difficult time for her. She had just lost her mother and had two other close deaths over the course of two years. Now her commute is six minutes from her home.
“I like what I do,” she said. “I’m a people person. I enjoy the families and the Residents.”
She was resistant to being a RN — “I wanted hands on,” she said.
While the DON role is more paperwork than people some days, she says she can sneak in a cigarette occasionally with Residents. And she dances “when my bones, when my joints will let me.
“I like being involved and seeing a smile on their face.”
Words of wisdom
Evans has a lot of advice for new hires to her nursing team. And she says she faces them all with an open-door policy — “let’s talk through a problem or an issue.”
“I check on new hires at least once daily,” she says. “I like being out there (on the floor).”
Her best advice for a new hire: “Do what you’re supposed to do the right way, every day. … Then you don’t have to worry about how to do it the right way.”
She also suggests being receptive to constructive criticism.
And she recommends the nursing staff listen to the CNAs.
“They know the Residents best,” she said.
Some of the CNAs at James River have been there for 30 years. Some nurses too. Sometimes it takes time to get a seasoned employee on the same page as a new hire. Evans recommends patience.
“We admit families, too,” she said. “We all become a team and work together to help the Resident.
“A happy staff makes happy care.”
Virginia Health Services is Resident and employee oriented, she said.
What’s made Evans return to VHS time after time?
“VHS is family. I have been very well taken care of by VHS in my tenure here, even with all the hardships and deaths in my family,” she says.
And she leaves this nugget of wisdom, which is universally applicable: “I feel like change is good because it opens up another rainbow. It gets you going in another direction.”
Join the team
Virginia Health Services is hiring nurses, including several positions at James River. Want to work with Peggy? Apply for the ADON position, or as a CNA, LPN or RN. Visit vahs.com/careers for a complete list of job opportunities at James River and with VHS.