Eight apprentices graduate to VHS Nurse Aides

Eight apprentices graduated from Care Assistant to Nurse Aide during a ceremony Thursday, April 11, 2024, at the Employment, Education and Enrichment (EEE) Center. The earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program also covers the cost of the state certification exam to be a CNA. This cohort featured four graduates with military ties, recruited in partnership with Hamilton-Ryker.

The six-week course includes classwork with 14 tests, learning 22 skills, and on-the-floor experience with patients at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Instructor Nora Gillespie, RN, refers to the class as “boot camp,” which was even more fitting given the students’ military connections.

Valedictorian Marie Ann Thomas is a member of the Air Force and took the class as part of the Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program, which helps military members transition to civilian life. A former dental technician, Marie “fell into taking care of people,” said Director of Education Princess Henderson, RN, BSN.

Two graduates, Jazmin Brown and Mitsy-Ann Green-Dawkins, are spouses of service members. Mitsy-Ann’s husband returned from a six-month deployment with the Air Force days earlier and attended the graduation ceremony.

Aldeen Stupart was referred to as the “class mom,” but also is the mother of service members.

The class

The new Nurse Aides will continue employment with VHS and work at The Newport, Northampton and Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers.

Nora said they “successfully conquered the class – together. This group of ladies helped each other get across the finish line.”

Jazmin came to class with a background in healthcare working at an assisted living. She soon learned, Princess said, long-term care can be a different experience. Jazmin relearned techniques based on Virginia requirements, with a smile, Nora said, and has eyes on nursing school.

Salutatorian Deniece Corbin “excelled in the class and on the floor,” Princess said. Deniece also was taking classes at night in nursing school. “This class will make you a better nurse,” Nora told her.

Aida Davila started with VHS as assistant activity director at Coliseum, where she worked with former apprentice student and All-Star Shawn Hill. She sought out Princess to enroll in the class.

“Shawn prepared you. You stepped in with a positive attitude and maturity,” Nora said. Princess also praised Aida’s time management with residents, excelling in the clinical setting.

Jacqueline Eadie is also a student at Hampton University and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in bio science in May. “You stepped up to the plate and this class supported you. You found comfort in them,” Nora said.

Mitsy-Ann was managing her family in addition to the class. Both instructors called her humble and said she looked out for her peers. “She returned to CNA classes for a reason – she really makes an impact on residents,” Princess said, adding one resident made sure even the James River administrator knew what a wonderful caretaker Mitsy is.

Princia Hounounou moved to Virginia recently and had a “smooth, gentle presence on the floor,” Princess said.

“Young, but mature, poised and determined,” Nora said. Princia earned Princess’s Champion Award for showing the most growth and improvement throughout the course of the class.

Aldeen “likes to keep her hands busy,” Princess said. She brought past healthcare experience to the table and gained confidence in her return to learning.

Marie is organized, Nora said, and carried that through in everything she did. “You have the heart and compassion, plus the skills to go with it,” Nora said.

“The residents wanted you there,” Nora told the class. “Lead with your heart and follow with your skill. We are very proud.”

Valedictorian speech

Marie delivered remarks to her classmates and instructors. She also presented yellow friendship roses to her fellow graduates.

“Most of you were also working other jobs, or going to school, or doing both – I was so impressed. I’m proud, and I hope you all are too,” Marie said.

Marie Ann Thomas shares valedictorian remarks with the class.

“Thanks to the instructors,” she said turning to Nora and Princess. “You can tell how much heart they both have and it really makes this class. You come here and feel they love what they do.”

She said she and her classmates would come off a shift on the floor and talk about what they could do better – to be better – to bring joy and make peoples’ lives better. She added she was amazed by the age differences among the class.

“We really did come together … I was blown away by all of you,” Marie said.

Valedictorian Marie Ann Thomas passes out yellow friendship roses to her classmates.

Instructor gifts

The students turned the tables on the instructors at the end of the ceremony, presenting Nora and Princess with glass “best teacher” awards.

Deniece presented Nora’s gift, saying, “We love you. … I really will carry what you taught us for the rest of my life.”

Following a group hug, there were more tears as Aldeen presented Princess with her glass award.

“We want to express how much we appreciate you. You made us realize that we have the courage and confidence to pursue our dreams. … You have prepared us for the world. … There is a saying, ‘a good teacher can awaken joy in their students and make a positive impression that can last a lifetime.’”

Next up

In addition to working with VHS, the graduates will participate in review sessions and schedule their certification exams with the state board.

“This was an exceptional class,” Princess said. “Use this as a stepping stone. I hope I can inspire you to go as far as you want in nursing. The sky is the limit.”

Join the team

The apprenticeship program classes on the Peninsula and Gloucester begin at the end of April. Applications will open for the Peninsula June 24-August 1 class in late May and the Gloucester July 22-August 29 class in June. Visit vahs.com/apprenticeship to learn more and apply.

Recruiting Roadshow hits the road in April

Virginia Health Services recruiter Colleen Reynolds resumed her Recruiting Roadshow of our nursing and rehabilitation centers in January. The Roadshow will be quarterly, with editions in January, April, July and October 2024.

The Recruiting Roadshow will give applicants a chance to apply and interview in person at our locations in Newport News, Hampton, York County, Gloucester and Kilmarnock. Job candidates can see our centers and get a feel for where they are applying.

“I want to make myself more visible to team members and applicants in each building,” Colleen says.

The increased presence should better support new hires and identify team needs.

Schedule

April dates:

  • York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and The Hamilton Assisted Living, 9 a.m.-noon Monday, April 22.
  • Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 1-4 p.m. Monday, April 22.
  • James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday, April 23.
  • The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and The Huntington Assisted Living, 9 a.m.-noon Wednesday, April24.
  • Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 1-4 p.m. Wednesday, April 24.
  • Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 9 a.m.-noon Thursday, April 25.
  • Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 1-4 p.m. Thursday, April 25.

How to be a successful applicant

Colleen shared ways to stand out among job applicants to Virginia Health Services. She sees hundreds of applications and conducts about 15 phone interviews a day. Make yourself standout.

“I’ll take a chance on people for a phone interview if the application looks like a professional effort was made. If you’re not making the effort in the application, hard to think you’ll put an effort into the work. Put your best foot forward to get to the interview process and sell yourself,” Colleen says.

Application tips

  • Complete all application questions.
  • Spelling and grammar should be correct.
  • Create a professional email address to use when applying. Use your correct contact information so you are reachable.
  • Have a professional resume (regardless of work history).
  • List any transferable skills
  • Be professional (avoid personal details)
  • List work experience
    • For those with limited or no work history, such as high school students, please list any part-time work experience or have an objective statement with a career goal listed. Be sure to include school and graduation date.

How to successfully interview by phone

  • Research Virginia Health Services (information is easily accessible at vahs.com). Colleen says, “Tell me why you want to work for VHS and what you know. Take the time to visit the website. I always ask, ‘why do you want to work for Virginia Health Services?’”
  • Ask questions about the job and company.
  • Read the job description so you can best speak to how your qualities and skills make you the right fit for the job to which you are applying. Talk up your skills – hard (like clinicals) or soft (such as organization and time management).
  • Be on time. Answer the phone. Give advance notice if possible to cancel. “Life happens, but keep it at a professional level at all times,” Colleen says.
  • Know your resume. Clarify when you were licensed. Colleen says, “Know your own work history and those important dates.”
  • Send a thank you message to follow up to everyone you spoke to.

How to successfully interview in person

  • Be professional.
  • Be on time.
  • Dress business casual for an in-person or virtual interview.
  • Be prepared. Know your work history.
  • Present yourself in a professional way.
  • Be prepared with questions. Ask about the position or VHS. “You have to make sure it’s a good fit for you the same as we need to make sure it’s a good fit for the company. … You have to make sure you know where you’re going,” Colleen says. (This applies to phone interviews as well.)
  • Send a thank you message to follow up.

“Everyone serves a purpose on the team,” Colleen says. “Tell me how you think you’ll fit in the organization and what you bring to the team.”

Join our team

Explore career paths with Virginia Health Services and apply online at vahs.com/careers.

VHS highlights Registered Dietitians’ nutrition expertise on National RD Day

Keeping our residents healthy in every aspect is a priority for Virginia Health Services. As we celebrate National Nutrition Month and recognize National Registered Dietitian Day, it’s important to understand nutrition is a critical component of health and wellness of all residents in the long-term care setting.

“Nutrition affects every part of the body and all of its functions,” says VHS Director of Dining and Nutrition Christina Lewis. “For residents with chronic health conditions, nutrition plays a vital role in the treatment of those conditions and the prevention of further complications.

“For residents recovering from illnesses, injuries or surgeries, good nutrition can help them regain their strength and stamina more quickly.”

VHS has a team of Registered Dietitian (RDs) who assess our residents and work with the nursing staff and dietary team (who are celebrated during Healthcare Food Service Workers Week in October) to administer medical nutrition therapy for residents, assist food and nutrition service directors with special diets and menus, and conduct regular sanitation audits.

Our team, led by Christina, include three contracted RDs and full-time team member Pamela “Ela” Bowen, who works with residents at The Hamilton Assisted Living, and York and Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers.

From VHS intern to Registered Dietician

In her role, Ela works closely with York/Hamilton dining director Nicole Freeman. She is familiar with Nicole, who served as Ela’s preceptor during her internship en route to becoming a RD with VHS.

Ela Bowen started as a dietetic tech with VHS, then an intern before joining the team as a registered dietician.
Ela Bowen started as a dietetic tech with VHS, then an intern before joining the team as a registered dietitian.

“She always made sure whatever we had to accomplish, there was a way to accomplish it. I always felt supported. She guided and worked with me to get done what I needed to get done. It gave me a lot of peace to know someone was in my corner,” Ela says of working with Nicole.

Ela was a dietetic tech with VHS, which led to finding preceptors within the organization to help her complete internship hours to graduate the program at Virginia Tech and prepare her for the certification exam. She graduated in May 2023 and started full-time with our team.

“I’m appreciative of the opportunity Virginia Health Services gave me to be an intern, prior as a tech, and now as an RDN,” Ela says. “It’s nice being able to step back into a familiar position coming right out of passing my exam.”

She was given a good foundation with VHS and feels like she learns something new every day.

Keeping tabs

While assisted living communities need bi-annual reports on special diets and weight loss/gain, nursing home regulations are more frequent.

Ela’s main responsibilities are charting on new resident admissions, marking significant changes for weight losses monthly, preparing quarterly reports, seeing residents about potential special needs or dietitian consults at nurse practioners’ requests. There are regular resident assessments of food intake, diet, weight management, changes in skin integrity, monitoring of supplements, and swallowing or chewing problems.

She has weekly meetings with the York nursing staff to keep proactive monitoring of residents’ nutritional needs.

“We’re really working as a team to try to proactively make sure we’re on top of residents not losing weight, which can add to other issues, such as skin integrity,” Ela says. “I’m excited to be part of the team to make sure residents have the best care they can.”

VHS Director of Dining and Nutrition Christina Lewis hosts a healthy cooking demonstration at The Arbors Independent Living.
VHS Director of Dining and Nutrition Christina Lewis hosts a healthy cooking demonstration at The Arbors Independent Living.

Good nutrition key

Not enough protein or lack of certain nutrition can affect skin integrity and lead to wounds, Ela says.

“Our role is to provide preferences, fortified foods and supplements to increase residents’ protein intake.”

That also includes menu planning, which Christina oversees.

“As many residents make their home with us, it is also important to consider their food preferences along with their nutritional needs. Providing meals that are tasty as well as nutritious is what we strive for every day,” Christina says.

Basket of healthy foods for your mind, such as leafy greens, oats, whole grain bread, extra virgin olive oil and fresh berries.
A basket of healthy foods for your mind, such as leafy greens, oats, whole grain bread, extra virgin olive oil and fresh berries.

Ela says she was drawn to a profession in nutrition when her granddad had cancer.

“I wondered if having certain nutrition or a specific diet would help prevent certain diseases. It’s what triggered wanting to be a dietitian,” she says.

Ela says meeting residents is her favorite part of the job. She has a good teacher in Nicole.

“One of the reasons I wanted to be here is that she really knows her residents. And that takes time to acquire. That’s been really helpful,” Ela says. “Because she was a really good preceptor, I wanted to work hand-in-hand with her as I was learning to be the best dietitian I could be.”

Join our team

We have career pathways in our dietary department across the organization. Search our listings and apply at vahs.com/careers.

VHS celebrates Long-Term Care Administrators Week

We’re celebrating National Long-Term Care Administrators Week (March 11-15). Our administrators are entrusted with the responsibility of managing the care of our loved ones. They interact daily with the individuals in our care, their friends and loved ones, and lead the care team to provide the highest level of quality care.

“Our members give their all in the face of great adversity to assure their communities are able to provide high quality care and services to the elders in their care. Their professionalism as they deal with the many issues before them, and putting the needs of their patients, residents, families, and co-workers ahead of their own deserves our highest recognition,” said Bob Lane, CNHA, FACHCA, President & CEO of ACHCA.

Virginia Health Services thanks our team of administrators across our seven nursing and rehabilitation centers and two assisted living communities. Meet our VHS administrators and assistant administrator:

COLISEUM NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER

Dudley Haas, Administrator

Coliseum Administrator Dudley Haas.

Years of service with VHS:  11 years.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? When I moved here as a single mom I needed a job that was conducive to day care – and I started as a Quality Assurance (QA) nurse.

How would you describe your job in 5 words or less? Controlled chaos, different daily.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? I do not sit at a desk all day; I am on the floor and in all the departments.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility? Travel.

Aleisha Anderson, Assistant Administrator

Coliseum Assistant Administrator Aleisha Anderson.

Years of service with VHS: A little over a year.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? Since childhood, I have had a passion to help others and always knew I would have a career related to helping others within a community. I have been in the healthcare field for more than 10 years, expanding my abilities in dental, hospital, and most recently, within long-term care settings.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? How staff, residents and families work together to deliver a high quality of care.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility? I love to spend time with family and friends. The beach is my happy place. I have a passion to travel, love to decorate and event plan, and enjoy attending festivals.

LANCASHIRE NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER

Amy Payne, Administrator

Lancashire Administrator Amy Payne.

Years of service with VHS: Two years in June.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? I was raised to care for others and always be kind, caring and compassionate. I began a career in long-term care over 25 years ago. My background includes nursing, in-patient rehabilitation, family practice/urgent care, and now administration. I am excited to continue working in the environment I am familiar with and passionate about. I enjoy sharing learning experiences, guidance, resources, and knowledge with team members to help us all deliver the best quality care to residents.

How would you describe your job in 5 words or less? Fast-paced, rewarding, enjoyable, humbling!

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The volume and diversity of duties completed daily. No two days are the same!

What is something you like to do outside of the facility? Anything outside, on the water, beach and boating, bonfires/campfires. I love spending time with my family and friends.

THE NEWPORT NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER

Stephen G. Berczek, Administrator

Stephen is the administrator at The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and The Huntington Assisted Living.

Years of service with VHS: About five years.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? Started out in physical therapy as a tech for VHS and then branched off into administrative roles. I have always enjoyed helping others, especially the elderly.

How would you describe your job in 5 words or less? Rewarding, challenging, fast-paced.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The extensive workload.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility? Snowboarding, traveling, working on motorcycles/cars, hiking, boating, fishing.

NORTHAMPTON NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER

DeShae Morse, Administrator

Portrait of DeShae Morse
Northampton Administrator DeShae Morse.

Years/Months of service with VHS:  11 months with VHS (20 years overall as a long-term care administrator). 

What drew you to a career in long-term care? My grandmother worked in healthcare at CHKD for 28 years. She possesses a strong passion for helping and serving others. Also, my desire to have personal involvement in serving my employees and producing positive outcomes for those who cannot care for themselves. 

How would you describe your job in 5 words or less? Divine assignment to serve others. 

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? With my team, we actually have loads of fun in the midst of the whirlwind that’s healthcare as we know it today. In this arena of healthcare, we often laugh, cry and have to pray for sanity in the same day!

What is something you like to do outside of the facility? Fun day/overnight trips and relaxing on the water. 

WALTER REED NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER

Bryant Hudgins, Administrator

Bryant Hudgins
Bryant Hudgins has been with VHS for 29 years. He built a career from CNA at Walter Reed to administrator.

Years of service with VHS: 29 years.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? I’ve always enjoyed helping others and as I turned older I unfortunately witnessed my grandparents and other older members of my family endure long, drawn-out illnesses. The more I become engaged in healthcare, I realized how long-term care would give me the opportunity to help others in need as they aged. Also, the security and stability a career in healthcare would guarantee.

How would you describe your job in 5 words or less? A continuous evolution in healthcare.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? How different every single day is. The duties of my job not only encompass the resident care and services but also physical plant and quality control of environment. It makes no single day ever the same.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility? I enjoy spending time with my family an am always out supporting youth sports. I recently completed my 10th year of coaching travel AAU basketball in 2022.

Join our team

We are looking for administrators for our James River and York Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers. Visit vahs.com/careers to view the job listing and apply online.

Women’s History Month: VHS highlights women’s integral role to advancement of medical care on Peninsula

In honor of Women’s History Month, Virginia Health Services is shining a light on the pivotal role women played in the advancement of medical treatment on the Peninsula.

VHS was founded in 1963 and for more than 60 years has strived to be the provider of choice for senior living, senior care, rehabilitation, home health and hospice. We recognize the value of our location in Hampton Roads and its rich history, which includes contributions to the medical field. And we’re proud to partner with Fort Monroe to celebrate women’s contributions to nursing and therapy this March.

Nurses stand in a group during a photo shoot at Fort Monroe in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of Fort Monroe)
A group of nurses views records during a photo shoot for the 50th anniversary of the Army Corps of Nurses. (Photo courtesy of Fort Monroe.)

We asked Fort Monroe archivist Ali Kolleda to share some of the former Army post’s history of women nurses and reconstruction aides, who were the precursors to occupational and physical therapists.

“World War I was a big turning point for the medical field, and specifically women’s involvement,” Ali said.

The research extensively shows the integral role of women’s work in the Army, well before they were allowed to enlist in 1943.

Virginia Health Services continues the tradition of supporting women’s roles in providing care on the Peninsula.

Civil and Spanish-American Wars

Fort Monroe was a hub for the treating of wounded soldiers during the Civil and Spanish-American Wars. It was considered easy to access along the waterways, and was the only Union stronghold in the South during the Civil War.

At the time, Ali said, “Fort Monroe was lauded as ‘a miraculous climate that could cure disease,’ and the Hygeia Hotel was meant to allow wealthy people to convalesce and ‘take to the waters.’ Hygeia was named after the goddess of health.”

Nurses were treating malaria en masse and wounded soldiers from combat.

During the Spanish-American War, articles are written about how exemplary the nurses’ care is when treating soldiers returning from Cuba, Ali said.

Archive image of Chesapeake Females Seminary (now home of the Hampton VA). Courtesy of Fort Monroe
Archive image of Chesapeake Females Seminary (now home of the Hampton VA). (Photo courtesy of Fort Monroe.)

There were between three and four hospitals set up at Fort Monroe during the Civil War. The complex included the Post hospital, a requisitioned the ballroom at the Hygeia Hotel, the then-Chesapeake Female Seminary, a tent Hampton Hospital (for enlisted soldiers) and a contraband hospital at the Fort’s entrance.

They were huge complexes with hundreds, if not thousands, of nurses running them.

“They’re called volunteer nurses through Spanish-American War,” Ali said. They were taught at medical schools and apprenticeships through hospitals. Many nurses were trained through the Red Cross.

A circular published during Civil War (possibly by Dorthea Dix) advertised for “matronly women, widows – women who don’t have dependents,” Ali said.

Ali said that changes, especially during times of war. Some women would follow their drafted sons and husbands to the post as nurses.

Lucina Emerson Whitney, volunteer Civil War nurse at Monroe
Lucina Emerson Whitney, volunteer Civil War nurse at Monroe. (Photo courtesy of Fort Monroe.)

“Lucina Emerson Whitney followed two sons who were serving in the 67th Regiment, Ohio Infantry, which was sent to Virginia,” Ali writes based on Fort Monroe archived documents. “She was assigned to the Hampton General Hospital (of the U.S. General Hospital, Fortress Monroe) in June 1863 where she served for the duration of the war.”

During this time, black women could not enroll in the Red Cross. There is not a record of black women as nurses at Fort Monroe during WWI.

Black women were contracted during the Civil War at Camp Hamilton (Phoebus) as nurses. Harriett Tubman was at the Fort during Civil War to inspect the contraband hospital. She was offered the job as head nurse – “we don’t know if she came back because the war was over at that point. We know she was here for three months conducting the inspection,” Ali said.

Records at the end of Civil War (1870s) show that black midwives delivered children at the Fort.

“They were here,” Ali said, “but wouldn’t have been officially considered Army nurses in the Nurse Corps.”

Army Corps of Nurses

Army nurses are at Fort Monroe consistently from 1901, not just times of war.

“(Training) becomes formalized in 1901 at the end of the Spanish-American War when the Army realizes they need a permanent body of nurses,” Ali said. “The Army Nurse Corps is created at that point. Army nurses are contracted, not enlisted, so there are no benefits. They’re not considered veterans. They’re simply civilian women contracted as nurses.”

They developed a community on the post. Ali said Fort Monroe has community activity bulletins in the collections from the 1910s and 1920s that outlined who could swim at the community pool, and when.

Women, as nurses, were considered the equivalent of officers. They were accepted as a social part of the fort. At the end of WWI, with influenza ramping up, black women were allowed to enroll as nurses with the Army Nurse Corps through the Red Cross. They were assigned to certain posts in the Army, not necessarily at Fort Monroe.

Nurses at work at Fort Monroe in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of Fort Monroe
Nurses at work at Fort Monroe around the time of the 50th anniversary of the Army Corps of Nurses in 1951. (Photo courtesy of Fort Monroe.)

Women enlist in Army medical unit

Women were open to enlist in 1943. Nurses’ quarters were constructed at Fort Monroe and nurses arrive in 1944. Women had their own barracks, mess hall, and were segregated from the male companies. They fall under the chief of staff for Army Field Forces.

At their time of enlistment, men and women received the same benefits and pay for the same rank. There were limitations placed on women for what rank they could reach until the 1970s. During WWII, their rank was usually captain or major.

The Army Corps of Nurses celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1951. The Fort Monroe collection includes medical unit lists of those women, souvenir menus and other items.

“(Women) become a very well-integrated part of the Army at that point, 1943 onward,” Ali said.

Photo of Captain Elizabeth Steindel, which appeared in the Daily Press on April 11, 1943. (Courtesy of Fort Monroe.)
Photo of Captain Elizabeth Steindel, which appeared in the Daily Press on April 11, 1943. (Courtesy of Fort Monroe.)

Ali shared an anecdote about Captain Elizabeth E. Steindel, who was chief nurse at Fort Monroe for about two years (1943-1945) during World War II. She was trained at Mercy Hospital in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and was commissioned as an Army nurse in 1942. She taught an accelerated course at the Fort Monroe station hospital to train nurse’s aides in 1945 – which sounds like a precursor to the CNA apprentice training currently offered by Virginia Health Services.

According to a newspaper article from the time, “the Monroe nurses get a certain amount of military drill and calisthenics.” The article also states there was “a staff of 12 handling a 139-bed hospital.”

Once Fort Eustis, Fort Story and Langley Air Force Base are established, the military dispersed medical stations around Hampton Roads.

The Fort Monroe hospital, which still stands on Ingalls Road, was converted to a clinic after the 1950s. Fort Monroe lost a lot of its operations, including maternity, which eventually was assigned to Langley AFB, Ali said.

The Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was inactive in 1974 and women were fully integrated into male units. By 1978, WAC dissolved into full integration in the Army.

On a map of Fort Monroe during the time of Reconstruction after the Civil War, Fort Monroe archivist Ali Kolleda points out where the Post Hospital and matrons' quarters were upon entering the fort's main gate.
On a map of Fort Monroe during the time of Reconstruction after the Civil War, Fort Monroe archivist Ali Kolleda points out where the Post Hospital and matrons’ quarters were upon entering the fort’s main gate.

Birth of occupational and physical therapy

Occupational and physical therapists also come out of WWI, then called reconstruction aides.

Near where the Hampton VA Hospital now stands was once the National Home for Disabled Volunteers, Ali said. It was a place for draftees to go to receive support for their “war neuroses.”

They were “asylum style hospitals; full-functioning communities for medical care,” though the underlying causes of mental health weren’t addressed at the time.

When the Army needed a demarcation hospital, it requisitioned the Hampton National Home and the veterans shifted to other hospitals in the U.S. Eventually it became General Hospital No. 43, which was geared toward mental health, shellshock and war neuroses, Ali said, to fulfill President Woodrow Wilson’s push to return soldiers to being “productive members of society.”

Reconstruction Aide Lois Clifford, pictured in the Pittsburgh Daily Post on Dec. 26, 1919. Clifford published manuels, such as on weaving, as part of occupational therapy training. (Photo courtesy of Fort Monroe.)
Reconstruction Aide Lois Clifford, pictured in the Pittsburgh Daily Post on Dec. 26, 1919. Clifford published manuels, such as on weaving, as part of occupational therapy training. (Photo courtesy of Fort Monroe.)

They added reconstruction aides, who were women trained privately through a hospital program and instituted programs to rehabilitate soldiers physically and mentally.

“It becomes the premiere neuro psychiatric facility of the Army” in Hampton, Ali said, and there were other locations.

One of the techniques the reconstruction aides used was weaving to help soldiers handle anxiety by occupying the mind. Programs were instituted and research was done that contributed to the occupational therapy program.

Occupational therapist Lois Clifford was assigned here in 1919 for the neuro-psychiatric hospital. She was trained occupational therapist and worked with soldiers with war neuroses. She was discharged from the Army with a “mental breakdown,” she calls it, and took time off for her recovery.

Clifford published a book on card weaving in 1947 and spent most of her life after her breakdown as occupational director at West PA School of the Blind.

The therapists fell under the Army medical department; no separate entity was created for reconstruction aides.

Virginia Health Services offers rehabilitation in its skilled nursing center units and outpatient physical, occupational and speech therapy. We recognize the important work women did as reconstruction aides to lay the groundwork for that field.

Four apprentices graduate from Walter Reed program

Virginia Health Services welcomed four new graduates from the apprentice program to its team following a ceremony Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Gloucester.

The students graduated from Care Assistants to Nurse Aides under the earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program, which also covers the cost of the state certification exam to be a CNA. The graduates were the first class to graduate this year from the Gloucester program and will continue to work at Walter Reed.

The program returned to hosting classes and skills lab at Walter Reed following a hiatus the past couple of years. Classes also are offered on the Peninsula at the Employment, Education and Enrichment (EEE) Center in Newport News, with skills labs at James River and Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers.

Students spend nearly six weeks in the classroom, taking 14 tests, and in the clinical skills lab learning 22 skills to graduate. The course provides the foundation to be a CNA and students are instructed it is a “stepping stone” to nursing or other career paths in healthcare.

Vice President of Operations Don Lundin congratulates the apprentice program graduates at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

It was the first class at Gloucester for VHS training and education coordinator Tracy Williams, MSN, BSN, RN. She was assisted by longtime VHS instructor Nora Gillespie, RN, and Director of Education Princess Henderson, BSN, RN, who also lead the Peninsula program.

Vice President of Operations Don Lundin said in opening remarks that VHS is proud of the graduates, and the team looks forward to supporting their journey in healthcare.

Three of the graduates were Care Assistants at Walter Reed previous to joining the class. The fourth “fit right into the puzzle,” Tracy said.

Lana Ketch, Director of Nursing at Walter Reed, shared the team was proud of them and happy they are remaining at the facility.

“I’ve heard about the care you’ve given, the compassion you’ve shown. Don’t ever stop doing that,” she said. “When you leave here at the end of the day, if you’ve made one resident smile, it was a good day. You did your job well.”

The graduates

Tracy said the class was the first taught on her own – she was the Infection Preventionist nurse at Walter Reed prior to joining the VHS education team.

“I thoroughly enjoyed this class,” she said.

Zoe Banks had some experience in a prior class before graduating Thursday. She knew her skills, Tracy said, and did an excellent job. She received a clinical skills superlative award from her instructor.

Nora said Zoe “thrived in this environment. I watched you grow in your abilities and in as a person, and your confidence just blossomed.”

Donna Collins “nailed it,” Nora said. Donna and Tracy had worked together previously and Tracy said she knew her student would excel in the class. She received the Champion Award from Tracy for showing the most growth throughout the course of the class.

Salutatorian D’Andra Wilson was nervous to start, Nora said, “but you were up to the task. You exceeded your expectations and were determined.”

Tracy called D’Andra – known as “D” – her long-lost twin. “She was great in the skills lab and on the floor. She nailed it.”

Valedictorian Marquise Williams was a good student, Nora said. “He was all in. It’s a stepping stone from CA, and he was in it to win it. You loved it. There’s a path for you in healthcare here.”

The residents loved him, Tracy said.

He shared a few remarks with his classmates.

“It was a good class. I loved working with my people. I enjoyed watching you grow as people and as nurses. Keep doing what you do; I look forward to working with you guys,” Marquise said.

Join our team

Applications for the next Gloucester class are open at vahs.com/apprenticeship. The class is slated for April 22-May 30. Two others will be offered July 22-August 29 and October 21-December 2.

Peninsula class applications for the April 29-June 6 class will open in mid-March. Look for the application link at vahs.com/apprenticeship.

First apprentice class of 2024 graduates

Seven students graduated from Care Assistants to Nurse Aides during a ceremony Feb. 16 at the Employment, Education and Enrichment (EEE) Center. It was the first graduating class of 2024 for the earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program.

The students spent nearly six weeks in the classroom and in clinical skills labs at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Hampton. They learn 22 skills, take 14 tests and get hands-on experience working with patients. The apprenticeship program also covers the cost of the state certification exam to be CNAs.

Friends, family members and VHS team members from corporate and Coliseum attended the graduation ceremony. Instructor Nora Gillespie, RN, and Director of Education Princess Henderson, BSN, RN, gave remarks as each graduate received their certificates. Instructor Tracy Williams, BSN, RN, handed grads their updated name badges to indicate they are now Nurse Aides.

The graduates – Iliana Apodaca, Ann Marie Morris Bellamy, Traci Jones (valedictorian), Tatyonna Gardner, Trinity Osborne, Tyra Stevenson and Moesha Williams (salutatorian) – will join the teams at Coliseum, James River and York Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers.

“It takes a special person to work with the elderly,” Nora said during the ceremony.

The graduates

Princess told the class it was “truly a good journey” with them. She and Nora showered the graduates with praise for their heart, compassion and ability to work together as a team.

Nora shared Iliana was “attentive, quiet and willing to the extra mile.” Princess added she was gentle with the residents.

Princess awarded Ann Marie the Champion Award for her hard work throughout the course of the class. She was recommended for the class by Coliseum Director of Nursing Yolanda Carnegie-Chambers, who was in the audience. “She would say she loved taking care of older people,” Nora said. Ann Marie plans to attend nursing school.

“Your heart shines,” Nora said of Tatyonna. Princess added her head was “always in the game.”

Trinity also is eyeing nursing school. She is determined, Princess said, and inspired by her grandparents.

“You do it well,” Nora told Tyra. Princess called her “determined, strong-willed and strong.” The former personal care aide learned to provide a gentler touch during clinicals.

Salutatorian Moesha “did a wonderful job,” Princess said, adding the experience is a perfect stepping stone for a nursing career.

Valedictorian

Valedictorian Traci Jones and Director of Education Princess Henderson.
Valedictorian Traci Jones and Director of Education Princess Henderson.

Traci also was referred to the class by the team at Coliseum. She was first licensed as a CNA in 1995 and needed to refresh her credentials. She told her instructors this is her calling, Princess said.

Princess read Traci’s valedictorian speech.

“I am filled with immense pride and gratitude … our journey in nursing has been nothing short of challenging, yet incredibly rewarding. … Through it all we have grown not only as healthcare professionals but also as compassionate individuals committed to making a difference in the lives of others. …,” she said.

“As we embark on our next chapter of our journey … let us carry with us with us the values instilled in us during our time here: compassion, empathy and commitment to lifelong learning. Let us continue to strive for excellence in everything we do knowing our dedication has the power to positively impact the lives of countless individuals.”

Princess helps Traci deliver her valedictorian remarks to her classmates and ceremony attendees.
Princess helps Traci deliver her valedictorian remarks to her classmates and ceremony attendees.

What’s next

The students will participate in review sessions before taking their state certification exams.

“We care about you as people; we want you to succeed,” Nora told the graduates.

Princess opened the ceremony by remarking, “Today you’re a CNA, tomorrow an RN. Keep the compassion you have for caring for people.”

Upcoming classes

Applications are closed for the next class, which starts March 4 at the EEE. Students of the Gloucester class graduate Feb. 29 at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Applications for the next Gloucester class, which is April 22-May 30, open the end of February. The next Peninsula class will accept applications this spring for its April 29-June 6 session.

Learn more and apply at vahs.com/apprenticeship.

VHS spotlights historic nurse training programs on Virginia Peninsula for Black History Month

The Hampton Roads community has been the foundation for Virginia Health Services for more than 60 years. During Black History Month, we are sharing the importance of Black community leaders and institutions that shaped and continue to shape the healthcare landscape.

In 2022, the theme of Black History Month, according to one of its founding group members The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), was health and wellness. The organization highlighted the importance of healthcare for African Americans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also addressed the historic exclusion of Black individuals from hospitals and clinics across the country before integration. (This year’s theme is African Americans and the Arts.)

The history of Hampton and Newport News reflects those struggles throughout the country. Virginia Health Services is spotlighting two programs on the Virginia Peninsula that trained Black nurses and doctors when those individuals could not find integrated programs.

VHS continues the tradition of educating healthcare professionals with our earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program that graduates Care Assistants to Nurse Aides and covers the cost of the state certification exam to be a CNA.

Our research on early training programs was done in conjunction with the Hampton History Museum, which provides programming and exhibits of the Peninsula’s rich history.

Whittaker Hospital

Facade of Whittaker Memorial Hospital
Whittaker Memorial Hospital was established in 1908 to serve Newport News’ Black community. Photo courtesy of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

Whittaker Memorial Hospital was founded in Newport News in 1908 by two Black physicians, Walter T. Foreman and Robert L. Whittaker, to provide quality care to the city’s growing African American population.

The nurse training school was established in 1915, a year after receiving its charter. It closed in 1932, but not before graduating 112 Black nurses.

The hospital was renamed Newport News General in 1985 and closed in 1997.

According to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Whittaker “is one of a few African American hospitals in the U.S. built and designed by African American physicians and architects.”

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. It was refurbished and opened as apartments at Whittaker Place in 2019.

HU School of Nursing

The nursing program at Hampton University was founded in 1891 as the Hampton Training School for Nurses, on the campus of (then) Hampton Institute.

It was one of the earliest nursing programs open to Black nursing students in the country, driven by Alice Bacon. The school was commonly known as Dixie Hospital. Its first graduate was Anna DeCosta Banks.

The Hampton University program is still going strong after more than 125 years. It claims it is the “oldest continuous baccalaureate nursing program” in Virginia. The School of Nursing developed to also offer master’s (accredited 1979) and PhD (1999) programs, and in 2017 was granted full Board of Nursing approval for another 10 years.

Virginia Health Services hosts HU’s CNA class clinicals in evenings at our facilities. The partnership began in fall 2022.

Diverse workforce foundation of VHS

Virginia Health Services, which was established in 1963, is thankful to serve a community so rich in history and is proud to be a part of its growth as we help individuals live their best life. We take pride in providing quality healthcare through our independent and assisted living communities, nursing and rehabilitation centers, and our home health care, outpatient rehab and hospice services.

We commit to investing in our team members. Growing a diverse and productive workforce is at the foundation of Virginia Health Services’ mission, vision and values.

VHS offers training programs to all looking to enter healthcare through our Nurse Aide earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program. Our team offers assistance in finding continuing nursing education programs and scholarships to team members who want to develop their nursing careers.

Call our team yours and apply today at vahs.com/careers.

Meet our recreational therapy team during Activity Professionals Week

We are celebrating National Activity Professionals Week (Jan. 22-26) by spotlighting our Activity Directors at Virginia Health Services senior living communities and nursing and rehabilitation centers.

Activity directors run recreation programs that are resident-focused. Events and activities cater to residents’ tastes and activity directors receive residents’ input. The programs help residents exercise their cognitive, sensory and motor skills, and provide social settings for engagement multiple times a day.

Activity directors also drive employee engagement within their communities, helping with team-centered events and activities to bolster morale and provide stress relief.

It’s not just fun and games! As our Activity Directors describe in their Q&As below, they are an integral part of care planning for residents, with charting and assessments as part of their daily duties.

Meet our Activity Directors:

The Hamilton Assisted Living

Kirstie Saunders | Activity Director

The Hamilton activity director Kirstie Saunders.
Hamilton activity director Kirstie Saunders.

Years with Virginia Health Services: 2 years in March.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? As a teen I attended church camp in Lynchburg. We had to choose somewhere to volunteer in the community and I chose the nursing home and loved it! I also have family in healthcare who helped guide me along the way and support me in my career.

How do you support the community’s team and residents? I like to help make it feel like home. I listen to resident and team ideas and brainstorm to make things come to life. The motto “Love where you live and love where you work” is what I strive for, both for the residents and our team.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? That I drive the bus!

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? First and foremost, the residents. They enjoy trying new things so I enjoy brainstorming with other professionals, finding ideas from Pinterest and Instagram, and implementing them into our community.

What types of activities do your residents enjoy most? Our residents enjoy quilting class, trips (including virtual), tea parties and live entertainment.

Personal details: I have been married for 19 years and have a son and two Australian Shepard dogs. I enjoy boating, beaching and fishing with my family.


The Huntington Assisted Living

Devyn Hotop | Activity Director

The Huntington activity director Devyn Hotop.
Huntington activity director Devyn Hotop.

Years with Virginia Health Services: About two years. (I started as a CNA with VHS from the apprenticeship program.)

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? During my time as a CAN, one of my favorite things to do was watch the residents engage in the various activities that were provided. I loved seeing the residents happy and I knew this position would be the perfect way to express my creativity while helping others!

How do you support the community’s team and residents? I am always helping out staff members whenever I can! I also make sure the residents know that I am here for them, and that my office is always open if they just want to hang out or want someone to talk to. 

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The versatility of the job. I drive the bus, do manicures, lead exercises, referee games, teach crafts, host socials. There is a lot that goes into this job.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? I rely on Pinterest and Facebook groups to find inspiration. I am always finding unique and fun things to do with the residents. I also bring up activity ideas to residents to get their opinion on it, and I let them have the opportunity to make their own suggestions.

What types of activities do your residents enjoy most? They love activities that keep their minds busy. Bingo is the most popular, and they recently have taken to new card games I have introduced to them.

Personal details: I like to stay busy inside and outside of work! In my free time I like to thrift, paint, fish and visit parks with my adorable (and very spoiled) Australian Shepherd.


Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Shawntez Hill | Activity Director

Coliseum activity director Shawn Hill.
Coliseum activity director Shawn Hill.

I have been the activity director at Coliseum since June 2023, and I have been with VHS for two years starting in the CNA apprenticeship program. I always had a great passion for helping seniors because I started out in home health care in 2016 and worked with private clients over the years. That’s what make me join the team as a CNA in April 2022. I became the Apprentice of the Year and joined the recreational therapy team in November 2022.

We have a good time at Coliseum! I believe if you have breath and strength in your body, that’s all that counts! I always tell our residents to look at each day as if it’s a party and they love it. It keeps them going with a smile on their face. The most important activity is Bingo, they take that game very seriously and you better have their prize at the end or you won’t hear the end. It’s just a blessing to see how little things can make them happy.

Other things I do outside of work is an annual Back to School Drive (for the past seven years) and a holiday help drive at Christmas to help families in need. Thanks to Virginia Health Services for helping me the last two years; I greatly appreciate it. My goal is to let each resident live their best life and be happy with no regrets.

Aida Davila | Assistant Activity Director

Coliseum assistant activity director Aida Davila
Coliseum assistant activity director Aida Davila

I started my career as a recreation therapy assistant/supervisor at the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington in Maryland, where I worked for 6.5 years before transferring to front desk security. When I moved to Virginia to live with my mother younger sister passed away, recreation therapy was the career path I wanted to continue. I enjoy providing activities for the residents and fellow team members. I love to see the smiles on my residents’ faces when they enjoy a program. Our residents at Coliseum really enjoy the parties Shawn and I throw, trivia and “you be the judge.” It exercises their minds and often triggers nostalgic memories.


James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Shawn Hanberry | Activity Director

James River activity director Shawn Hanberry.
James River activity director Shawn Hanberry.

Years with Virginia Health Services: 7 years, 9 months.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? My mother, a retired LPN who worked in long-term care for 35 years, encouraged me and I have been connected to it since my years of volunteering at Bayside of Poquoson and Dominion Village of Poquoson.

How do you support the community’s team and residents? Through respect, high energy and positive attitude.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The amount of charting that includes progress notes, care plans, participation records and various assessments.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? My residents and their ideas.

What types of activities do your residents enjoy most? Our residents enjoy Bingo, Jackpot, Car Racing, Main Street Market and parties.

Personal details: I am a native of the Peninsula, mainly in Poquoson where I grew up and currently live. I enjoy road trips, trying new foods and visiting historical places and towns.


Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Amber Watson | Activity Director

Lancashire activity director Amber Watson.
Lancashire activity director Amber Watson.

Years with Virginia Health Services: 1 year, 3 months.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? I have always had a big heart for the elderly. I became a CNA and worked private cases and in nursing homes for six years until the pandemic. At that time, I decided to stay home with my kids. When my kids returned to school, I returned to work, searching for activity director openings. I thought, “how cool and fun it would be to do fun things with the aging population and keep them active?”

How do you support the community’s team and residents? I love supporting my Team Members! I always lend a hand to my work family to help in any way, shape or form.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The amount of paperwork and daily charting.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? I have five kids and they love to help with activity ideas for the Residents. I also get ideas from activity connection, Pinterest, and from the Residents themselves.

What types of activities do your residents enjoy most? My residents are very hands on! Any activity that involves everyone having a good time, enjoying themselves, best believe they will be there. They really love arts and crafts, and socials.

Personal details: I am 31 years old. My husband and I have been together for almost 15 years and we have five beautiful kids (three girls and two boys, ages 2, 6, 8, 11 and 14). We have a 1-year old lab named Milo, who keeps us on our toes. We have lived in the Topping area for almost two years.


The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Jamel DeCosta | Activity Director

The Newport activity director Jamel DeCosta

Years with Virginia Health Services: 3 years.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? I’ve always enjoyed the elderly. I guess it’s due to being raised by my grandmother.

How do you support the community’s team and residents? Pitching in where ever needed.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The relationships between the staff and residents.

What types of activities do your residents enjoy most? Bingo, painting and cornhole.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? Friends and family, especially my 10-year-old grandson.

Personal details: I am a mother of two and grandmother of four. I enjoy entertaining, crafting, decorating and shopping.


Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Erica Donaldson | Activity Director

Northampton activity director Erica Donaldson started the position this month. She was a CNA at Northampton for 23 years.

Years with Virginia Health Services: 23 years (as a CNA until this transition to activity director in January).

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? This is something different after my years as a CNA and an opportunity to challenge myself.

How do you support the community’s team and residents? I bring new ideas to the table.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? More energetic to the facility for residents and team members.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? From former activity director Charlene Craig (now a Resident Navigator at Northampton), other team members and Pinterest.

What types of activities do your Residents enjoy most? Bingo, Get Fit class, and church.

Personal details: I have two sons (one who lives in Pittsburgh). I am a Steelers fan! I have four grandchildren and a new person in my life. I’m staying positive and enjoying life!


Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Julie Boothe | Activity Director

Walter Reed activity director Julie Boothe
Walter Reed activity director Julie Boothe.

I have been in the activity field for 29 years and had the pleasure of spending those years with Virginia Health Services. I accepted a job after spending three years volunteering with a local elementary school. Thanks to having a caring soul, I feel right in to this career. I love outdoor activities of most kinds and taking care of my animals and pets at home. I am truly blessed to have my husband for 43 years, sons, daughter, mother, sisters, grandchildren and friends. They all mean the world to me.

Walter Reed has a fantastic volunteer base and community that helps meet the needs of our residents through the activity department. We provide daily activities for the residents and make sure they have the materials they need for independent activities. Our residents tell us what they like to do and we make it happen. This includes entertainment coming into the facility and us going out in the community.  We love all our volunteers. They are very special people.

Activity directors work 24/7. Many times, we have to drop what they are doing to attend to something else and pick up where we left off later. We definitely have to multitask and be very organized. A big part of the job is finding activities (which can pop in your head any time of the day), scheduling activities, individualizing a program for each resident and being there to listen when need be. A big thanks to my assistants for all their hard work and dedication. Activity and other staff build tight bonds with residents and care for them dearly.

Activity ideas come from a lot of places. The resident requests are the first, then we use Internet, TV, magazines and imagination. Activities are provided to give them the opportunity to have fun, laugh, feel good and fill their phyco-social needs. They love bingo, pet therapy, Wii games, church, bible studies, crafts, music, in the kitchen, outings and more. There is nothing like dunking your administrator in a dunk booth.  The residents had a blast.  Thank you for participating, Bryant. We have a great team here.

On a personal note, I wish to thanks all the staff, volunteers, and VHS growing with me for year to year. It takes a team to meet the needs of over 100 people. Thank you for your understanding, caring and support. Working here is not a job but an extended family.

Jennifer Caldwell | Assistant Activity Director

Walter Reed assistant activity director Jennifer Caldwell.
Walter Reed assistant activity director Jennifer Caldwell.

Years with Virginia Health Services: 1 year.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? I’ve always enjoyed the elderly, and being able to plan activities. Putting a smile on residents’ faces daily is something I knew I would be good at.

How do you support the community’s team and Residents?  By always being attentive to my residents and team.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The relationships between the residents and staff.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? Pinterest and Residents. I am always asking residents for suggestions – it might be something we have done before that they enjoyed or something new they want to do.

What types of activities do your Residents enjoy most? Bingo, music and any food activity. 

Personal details: I enjoy being with family, friends and going on vacations. I love going on cruises.

Stephanie Williams | Assistant Activity Director (Memory Care)

Walter Reed assistant activity director for memory care Stephanie Williams.
Walter Reed assistant activity director for memory care Stephanie Williams.

Years with Virginia Health Services: 1 year, 9 months.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? I started doing activities voluntarily at my previous job and thoroughly enjoyed working with the residents and seeing them enjoy it also.

How do you support the community’s team and Residents? I help anyway I can that they need.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? Working on a memory care unit you have a wide range of cognitive abilities to balance out, especially to offer an activity that is inclusive. A lot of people don’t know how to deal with somebody with dementia or Alzheimer’s, and really it’s just a little patience and getting to see what their interests are.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? Research but also seeing what they like to do or new things that work. I can put together different activities based on those.

What types of activities do your Residents enjoy most? They like the physical activities but they also like to read and love to listen to music, and dance and sing.

Personal details: I enjoy coming in and spending the day with my residents every day. Outside of the busy work day I spend a lot of time with my family and three animals.


York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Mary Garrity | Activity Director

York activity director Mary Garrity
York activity director Mary Garrity.

Years with Virginia Health Services: 7 years (in March).

What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? The elderly always had a place in my heart. I started my career at a senior center 20-plus years ago and have worked in several long-term facilities. I love to see the Residents happy and smiling, I love to challenge the residents with word games and trivia, and I love to see the residents dancing and singing.

How do you support the center’s team and residents? I support the team by helping wherever I can, having dress-down days, games and contests for the staff and Residents. We have become family and do whatever they need or want.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? Of all the many hats we wear, we help by serving meals, getting water for the residents, being a good listener … all the little things that residents need, including decorating for Christmas and other holidays.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? From the residents’ likes and dislikes. Every facility is different and has different cultures. I use online resources like Activity Connection and share ideas with other activity professionals.

Personal details: I love going to the beach, reading, interior decorating and furniture restoration.


The Arbors Independent Living

Quianna | Life Enrichment Director

Years with Virginia Health Services: 1 year.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? I was always interested in being around seniors. It wasn’t until two years ago while I was in California, I was filling in for our activity director and I just thought her job was so fun and exciting. Being able to plan and execute daily activities for residents was definitely something I knew I would be great at doing.

How do you support the community’s team and residents? By always being attentive to my team and residents, and always being a team player.

Where do you find ideas/inspirations for activities? First and foremost, from my residents. If you just sit and talk with them for a little, you will discover a lot from them. I also get inspirations from Facebook groups and Pinterest.

What type of activities do your residents enjoy the most? My residents really enjoy crafting, painting, trivia and Bingo!

Personal details: Being an activity director and being able to implement programs on the calendar is more than just that. I am up close and personal with the residents. They confide in me and they count on me to do a great job in making their lives more enjoyable and fun. The bonds that I have created while being in this position is more than I could ask for. The smiles and joy on my residents’ faces after a program, the “thank you” and the “great job Quianna” makes everything I do worth it.


Help the team

Our activity directors are always in need of volunteers to assist with events and activities or provide entertainment and social interaction. Visit vahs.com to submit a request to volunteer.

Six apprentices graduate to Nurse Aides in December 2023 cohort

Virginia Health Services celebrated its final apprentice class of 2023 during a graduation ceremony Friday, Dec. 8 at the Employment, Enrichment and Education (EEE) Center in Port Warwick.

The earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program graduates Care Assistants to Nurse Aides and covers the cost of the state certification exam to be a CNA. The program includes six weeks of class work and clinical skills labs, in addition to on-the-floor experience at VHS nursing and rehabilitation centers.

The graduates – Mahojahnae Cofield, Morgan Combs, Javonni James, Ebony Robertson, Alicia Smith and Sharen Van Boeckel – are now VHS team members. They will work at Northampton and York Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers.

Friends and family gathered to celebrate the apprentices’ accomplishments and enjoyed light refreshments following the ceremony.

The six graduates with their instructors at the EEE
The graduates with their instructors Princess, Nora and Tracy.

The ceremony

Instructor Nora Gillespie, RN, calls the class “CNA boot camp.” The students are presented 700 slides, take 14 tests and learn 22 skills. They also work on the floor at VHS nursing facilities in the evenings and on some weekends.

“They evolved through class,” she said. “Their personalities really came out.”

Director of Education Princess Henderson, RN, BSN, told the graduates “this is just the beginning. You guys are going to take it beyond your CNA licenses.”

This was a training class for training and education coordinator Tracy Williams, MSN, BSN, RN. She will teach classes at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center beginning in January.

The graduates

The six graduates were complimented throughout the ceremony by Princess and Nora.

Mahojahnae “Mo” Cofield earned Princess’ Champion Award for being the most improved throughout the course of the class. “She wanted her patients to get great care,” Princess said.

Morgan Combs is the class valedictorian. She joined the class after spending time as a veterinarian tech, Princess said. “She decided she wanted to care for humans … There’s more of a connection when you provide care,” Princess said.

Morgan addressed her classmates in her valedictorian address, and thanked the instructor team.

“It’s been a complete whirlwind, but we made it to the other side. We have grown as humans and as nurse aides. We are a little more sure of ourselves, came out of our shells a bit, made friends with each other and had each other’s shoulders to lean on,” Morgan said. “… It has not been easy but we did it. I’m so proud to know each and every one of you … and so happy we took this journey together.”

Javonni James came into the class without previous healthcare experience. Tracy told Princess it looked like Javonni did it for years when watching her in the skills labs.

“She fell in love with her residents and will make an excellent nurse,” Princess said. Nora said Javonni excelled in the clinical environment.

Ebony Robertson had experience in healthcare and drove to class from Norfolk every day.

“Don’t stop here,” Princess told her. “You will be a great nurse.”

“She’s destined to do the right thing; she brings the best out of everyone else,” Nora added.

Princess referred to co-salutatorian Alicia Smith as “a little firecracker.” She exhibited professional growth in learning how to take care of residents.

“Alicia told me, ‘I will be great,’” Princess said.

Sharen Van Boeckel, co-salutatorian, worked in ICU care in Portland, Oregon, before moving to Virginia.

“She learned it’s different in nursing home and it’s different in Virginia,” Princess said. “She excelled in the classroom and on the floor.”

Nora added Sharen’s enrolled in a RN program that starts in January. “She’s a great leader and role model.”

VHS Vice President of Operations Don Lundin closed the ceremony saying, “Keep going. You’re on a journey. I’m excited to be part of your journey.”

The program

The next steps for the graduates include attending reviews at the EEE with Nora to prepare for the state board exams. “If you get through me, you’ll get through boards,” Nora said. “You will be a better nurse.”

The next apprenticeship class starts in January. Learn more about the program at vahs.com/apprenticeship.

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