Hamilton hosts dietetic interns for food service rotation

Two students enrolled in dietetics programs are completing necessary internship rotations with Virginia Health Services. Their goal is to graduate this spring and be Registered Dietitians.

Ella Bowen, a student with Virginia Tech, and Sarah Cuffee, a student with Virginia State University, are doing their food service management rotations at The Hamilton Assistant Living with dining services manager Nicole Freeman. They had to complete a special project, with a catering focus, during the rotation.

Both cook and do other work in the kitchen during their rotation, serving Hamilton and York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Residents. They work with Nicole on their competencies, which they’ll need to complete as part of their program.

The program

Ella cooks eggs during a Friday special breakfast at The Hamilton.
Ella cooks eggs during a Friday special breakfast at The Hamilton.

Nicole had several ideas for dining programs at The Hamilton that Ella and Sarah could plan and execute.

“Nicole is the mastermind,” Sarah said.

They catered lunch for a meeting of the VHS leadership team and Board members. They hosted a reception – a “Captain’s Feast” – at the Residents’ request for Assistant Administrator Joel Batista, who recently joined The Hamilton team.

And on Friday, they had a Fried Egg Competition and cooked eggs to order during a special breakfast for the Residents. Activity Director Kirstie Saunders said the event even drew out Residents who don’t usually come to the dining room for the meal.

Ella and Sarah collaborated with Nicole on menus, ideas and presentation.

“This has been a good experience here,” Ella said. “Nicole has been very supportive and helpful.”


Ella serves a Resident at The Hamilton breakfast.
Ella serves a Resident at The Hamilton breakfast.

In addition to frying up eggs and serving them Friday, Ella made a berry breakfast cobbler from scratch for the special breakfast. She is a diet tech with Virginia Health Services, joining the team in September.

Her next rotation will be her elective, clinical care, which she will complete with VHS Director of Dining and Nutrition Viki Reynolds. Ella will learn to do care plans, interview patients, perform weight checks and do assessments.

She is interested in continuing in long-term care once she graduates and passes the certification to be a Registered Dietitian.

“Several members of my family have had diabetes,” she said. “I eventually want to be a diabetes educator and work with those with cardiovascular disease and obesity.”

Hamilton Activity Director Kirstie Saunders introduces Sarah and Ella during the Captain's Feast on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2022.
Hamilton Activity Director Kirstie Saunders introduces Sarah and Ella during the Captain’s Feast on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2022.


The Norfolk native felt drawn to being a Registered Dietitian because of her family’s history with diabetes and other illnesses.

“I don’t feel like the public knows the how your health is affected by your diet. I want to work in education, likely diabetes education in an outpatient setting,” she said.

Join our Team

We have openings on our dietary team for aides, cooks, a dietary manager and a registered dietitian. To apply, visit vahs.com/careers. VHS helps its team members live their best life, offering competitive wages and benefits in a supportive community that focuses on continuing education of its workforce.

Meet our recreational therapy team during Activity Professionals Week

We are celebrating National Activity Professionals Week (Jan. 23-27) 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. Event and activities cater to Residents’ tastes and activity directors receive Residents’ input. The programs help Residents exercise their cognitive, sensory and motor skills.

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.

Meet our Activity Directors:

Sarah Allen, Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Coliseum activity director Sarah Allen
Coliseum activity director Sarah Allen

Years with Virginia Health Services: 2 years (1 year in activities).

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? I was ready for a change. (Sarah was a concierge at Coliseum before moving to activities.)

How do you support the community’s team and Residents? At Coliseum, we are always coming up with new fun things to do. Our office door is always open for anyone who wants to come visit us. I love the relationships we get to build with staff and Residents.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The paperwork and meetings! Everyone thinks we just get to play games, but it’s not.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? Activity Connection, Facebook and Pinterest. 

What types of activities do your Residents enjoy most? Bingo! Plus, any food or music programs and church.

Personal details: I tell others that I get to come to work to have fun. Seeing my Residents smile and say how much they had at a program just makes me very happy.

Shawn Hanberry, James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

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

Years with Virginia Health Services: Almost 7 years. (I have 26 years of activities experience.)

What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? Volunteering. My mother was a CNA at what was called Heritage Place Assisted Living in Poquoson (which is now Dominion Village of Poquoson) in the earlier years of her career and instead of getting a babysitter she would bring me to work with her. I volunteered in the activities department there and when I was in high school, I was a bingo volunteer through the Key Club.

How do you support the center’s team and Residents? Always treat everyone as equals and you will go far.

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

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? From my Residents and what they like.

Amber Watson, Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Years with Virginia Health Services: 3.5 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 elders and keep them active?”

Lancashire activity director Amber Watson
Lancashire activity director Amber Watson

How do you support the community’s team and Residents? I love supporting my Team Members! Helping them in any way shape or form, I always have a lending hand for my work family.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? There’s a lot of paperwork! We have a lot of fun in activities, but there is a lot of daily paperwork too.

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 social get togethers.

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 Pinterest and from the Residents themselves.

Personal details: I am 30 years old. I was born in New Jersey, but have lived in Virginia since I was 7. My husband and I have been together 13 years and we have five kids (three girls and two boys, ages 2, 5, 7, 10 and 13). We recently moved to Topping in August 2022.

Charlene Craig, Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Northampton activity director Charlene Craig
Northampton activity director Charlene Craig

I have been with Virginia Health Services for 33 years. I started off as a nursing assistant in 1989 then started with activities in 2020.  I am a team player with the staff and enjoy one-on-one visits with Residents, and bringing a smile to everyone’s face. I get my inspiration from my peers. In my spare time, I like to hang out with my dogs and have my own paint business with my man.

Jamel DeCosta, The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

The Newport activity director Jamel DeCosta
The Newport activity director Jamel DeCosta

Years with Virginia Health Services: 2 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.

Julie Boothe, Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

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

This is my 29th year at Walter Reed in the recreational therapy field. It is more like family than a job. I have always stated the God gave me the gift of caring, which drew me to taking care of my elders and those who would benefit. My job is adapting activities to suit each individual’s needs to make their life the best it can be. 

The community plays a very important role in helping achieve social wellbeing. We are starting to spring out of COVID and back into routine. Community members and organizations come in and provide music, church services, games, gardening, crafts, entertainment and more for our Residents. We also have individual volunteers who help with in-house activities, socials, transportation and more. We are blessed to have all the community and volunteer support we do.

You will never know how the littlest of things can make a Resident feel so very important. As we all know, it takes a lot to provide total care of an individual and all the team members here do what they can to help meet our Residents’ needs daily. I deeply care for all of our Residents, team members, and volunteers for all they do.

As much as I cherish my Walter Reed life, I also cherish my family, from my mother, husband, sons and their families, my sisters and their families, to my two grandchildren. We have passed down our caring hearts to our grandchildren, who are very caring to others. We are all outdoors people and spend most of our time there. We like to hike, work outdoors and take care of our animals. We have turkeys, chickens, goats, dogs and cats.

I consider myself blessed by God as he uses me to help others. Stay active and live life to the fullest. 

Mary Garrity, York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

York activity director Mary Garrity
York activity director Mary Garrity

Years with Virginia Health Services: 6 (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.

Quianna Terrell, The Arbors Independent Living

The Arbors Life Enrichment Director Quianna Terrell
The Arbors Life Enrichment Director Quianna Terrell

Years with Virginia Health Services: Almost two months.

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.

Kirstie Saunders, The Hamilton Assisted Living

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

Years with Virginia Health Services: 1 year 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? They love to help care for Mr. Hamilton, our community rabbit. We named the area he lives in The Gathering Place and you can always find folks there forming bonds by chatting or singing.

Personal details: I have been married for 18 years and have a son and two Australian Shepard dogs. I enjoy boating, beaching and fishing with my family.

Devyn Hotop, The Huntington Assisted Living

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

Years with VHS: I was a CNA for about a year and have been the Huntington Activities Director for two months.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? During my time as a CNA one of my favorite things to do was to 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 always try to pitch in and help out both the Residents and staff whenever I can! I also make sure to be someone that our Residents can go and talk to.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? I think it would surprise others how much this position helps you get to know the Residents in a different way. The activities bring out so much personality in them, even the shy ones!

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? Asking the Residents what they like and dislike helps me find a lot of inspiration. I also love using Pinterest and other social media to get different and interesting ideas for activities that I would have never thought of on my own.

What types of activities do your Residents enjoy most? Bingo is definitely the biggest hit, but they also really enjoy socials and music entertainment as well.

Personal details: In my free time I love to thrift, paint, and go outside with my Aussie and boyfriend!

Join the team!

We are looking for Activity Professionals to join our team. Visit vahs.com/careers to view the job description and apply.

VHS team member supports local families at holidays

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

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

He started his holiday help program three years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to help

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

Donations can be made at:

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

Apprentices share VHS experiences over past year

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

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

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

Community care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adding on certifications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join our team

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

Class of 9 graduate to Nurse Aides with Virginia Health Services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Val & Sal

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

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

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

Krystal fought through tears to deliver her valedictorian address.

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

Upcoming classes

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

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

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

VHS IT team keeps infrastructure running

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

Our IT team.

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

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

Who ya gonna call?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I really like that,” he says.

Top priority: Cybersecurity

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

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

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

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

IT cha-cha-changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“IT is there for everything,” she says.

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

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

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

The COVID factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank goodness for IT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Without the collaboration, it would not work.”

Dietary at ‘heart’ of VHS independent, assisted living communities and nursing centers

Nutrition is fundamental to living and meals in senior living settings are a source of healthy socialization. Providing both requires a safe environment and an enthusiastic, well-trained team.

In honor of Healthcare Food Service Worker Week (Oct. 2-8, 2022), we are highlighting all our team does.

Virginia Health Services’ dietary department is instrumental in making sure recipes are executed according to Residents’ diets, they are prepared safely and served at proper temperature, and that the Residents have their needs met to the best of the team’s ability.

“So much of what dietary does is behind the scenes, but our buildings cannot function without dietary,” says Viki Reynolds, Director of Dining and Nutrition for VHS.

“It may not be seen, but it’s part of the heart of the building and it takes a lot of skill. Our staff members have to have a large span of skills to make sure we’re compliant and meeting Residents preference. It’s important for them to get nutrition, to serve healthy meals and provide a dining experience. For them, it’s socialization and comfort.”

In other words, from James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Dining Services Manager Linda Jones, “Dietary rocks!”

Teresa Bowen is the dietary manager at Coliseum.

Jones, who has worked for VHS for 27 years, says it’s a privilege to be a part of the team.

“I’ve learned a lot, and had a lot of good people to teach me,” she says. “It’s challenging but it’s rewarding. Your heart has to be with the Residents.”

The Dietary Manager at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Teresa Bowen, says, “I like the Residents. Working in a place like this, unlike a restaurant, they appreciate what you do for them.”

Unlike in fast food job where you might just flip a hamburger, “we do way more than that!”

Meal preparation

The dietary departments of our senior living communities and nursing centers wear many hats to get nutrition to Residents, serve healthy meals and encourage Residents to socialize.

Each Resident’s needs vary. Residents in skilled nursing units are trying to gain strength to rehab and get home. Some Residents may need to take food with certain medications, and their tray timing has to work in synch with the nursing team.

Some Residents need a therapeutic diet (such as low-concentrated salt or sugar) or a textural diet if they have trouble chewing or swallowing (such as meat already cut, softened vegetables or a pureed meal).

The dietary side has to match up with the care plan from the nursing side, Reynolds says.

Residents and families don’t see the actual work that’s being put in, Jones says, but they see the result.

“It takes a certain type of person to do the work and it’s serious,” Jones says. “It gets deep, when it comes to diets, and knowing what is right by the Residents. “It’s serious work and it isn’t easy.”

In addition to abiding by diets and allergies, there are codes and regulations to follow, including when and how frequently trays are loaded onto carts, the temperature of the meal and more.

“That can be overwhelming sometimes,” Jones says.

Venzel Snead is a cook at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

The upside is knowing you are working hard for the Residents.

“I love seeing the Residents’ happy faces when they eat the food that I make. It brings me joy,” says Coliseum cook Venzel Snead. He spent years in restaurants before coming to long-term care.

“Here you are a bit more intimate with the Residents and can improve what you’re doing so they see it (the consistency), unlike in a restaurant, you change customers daily. They really appreciate what we do.”

Healthcare food service

Our dietary team really gets to know the Residents’ preferences and makes note of them. They will fulfill special requests when they can. They get to know the Residents and their families.

“It takes a team. Everybody that’s working in that dietary department is important,” Jones says. “You do the best you can do.

“You have to be all in and have a humble spirit. You need to be able to receive feedback and want to do things the right way; learn from a mistake and be willing to learn. Be enthusiastic, be hyped up, be on fire!”

The James River team, led by Linda Jones (left), recently rolled out a continental breakfast for Residents that they enjoyed.

Bowen says, “You cook like you cook at home, but a different amount. And less fat and salt. I encourage my team to do different things. We will tweak recipes if we have to.”

And everyone gets geared up to serve holiday meals, such as Cornish hens, ribeye steaks and turkey dinners.

The dietary team becomes part of the Resident’s family. Jones says you often meet with Residents and families who understand you are doing a service.

“At the end of the day, I can visit a Resident’s room and hear, ‘thank you for all you do,’” she says. That appreciation helps build morale.

So does encouragement from the leadership team.

“I like that I see the administration and they’re not afraid to get down and dirty (if we need help),” Bowen says.

Teamwork and being able to come together to “be ready to do the impossible,” Jones says, means “we can do so much more and be so much better if we’re all on the same page.”

Chef Akira Johnston prepares meals on the line at The Arbors Independent Living.

Senior living

At The Arbors Independent Living, and The Hamilton and The Huntington Assisted Living, there are a few more choices in dining. Chef Akira Johnston and her team change the menu monthly to keep dishes and choices fresh for the Residents of The Arbors.

The assisted living communities also are introducing more options, Reynolds says, with more to come.

“We’re figuring out how to best serve our population,” she says.

The Huntington and The Hamilton offer pre-meal bread service, and will introduce a soup or salad course before the meal, “to encourage the Residents to come down and socialize.”

A third dessert offering is also to come, and the dietary staff is figuring out how to interact more with Residents at their room, such as offering fresh, hot items with the help of hot plates and toasters on each floor.

The dining and dietary team at The Hamilton Assisted Living helped pull off a fun “Cheeseburger in Paradise” party for AL Week in September.

To encourage Residents to eat in the dining room more often (which during the height of COVID went underutilized), the dining managers are ordering fresh linens and chinaware to improve aesthetics, Reynolds said. They also are in the process of setting up a breakfast bar that will feature items like fresh fruit, pastries, muffins, cereal and coffee.

Johnston and the teams at The Huntington and The Hamilton also are excited to introduce fun fare in time for the holidays.

Join our team

Our dietary department is hiring cooks and aides for all of our locations. Job descriptions and how to apply can be found at vahs.com/careers.

“The road is bumpy right now, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Jones says of knowing quality, skilled team members are being hired.

Physician Assistant with VHS loves ‘being a healer’

Cindee Hawkins loves what she does. Contracted by Virginia Health Services through her employer, Mid-Atlantic Long Term Care, Cindee spends most days at Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She also can be called on at other VHS communities.

“I love being a PA. I love being a healer,” she says.

A PA, or physician assistant, can under the supervising physician prescribe medicine, diagnose illness and perform many medical tasks. PAs are being celebrated this week (Oct. 6-12) to recognize all of their contributions to the healthcare team.

Cindee is the only full-time PA with Virginia Health Services. She works with individuals on the skilled (short-term inpatient rehabilitation) and long-term units under the care of her supervising physicians at Mid-Atlantic.

“The goal is to get them doing their best and get them functioning as best we can to give them a good quality of life when back at home,” she says when it comes to individuals in skilled care.

“We see them as our family and take care of them like they’re our own.”

Patient care

Cindee says in addition to administering patient care, a lot of the job includes educating the individual, and their loved ones, about their condition and recovery.

“It falls on us a lot of times to educate the families and explain the individual’s baseline,” she says. “We do the best we can to keep them here and really just try to nurture their rehab as best we can.”

She tells her patients that physical therapy is the “captain of the ship, I’m just here to keep it on course.”

Oftentimes, families have a hard time understanding the process after an illness, knowing only how the individual was before. Providing education and empathy is key to the job.

“I never want anyone to suffer while they’re under my watch. I feel like it’s a calling,” Cindee says.

Physician Assistant Cindee Hawkins works primarily out of Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

“I just love it. The team here is awesome. I love everyone I work with. … We just love what we do. It’s difficult, I’m not going to lie, it’s difficult work. I love what we do. I love this field of medicine.”

She started at Northampton about three years, so was “face-to-face with COVID-19 patients three days a week.”

Cindee says it was a difficult time, and she and the team wept with some of the patients.

“As caregivers, we mourned them as a group,” she says.

She says the aging population “needs a voice, and that’s what I want to do.

“A majority of us are here because we genuinely care and want to make things better for their loved ones. … We are caregivers. We are healthcare providers and we are healers, and that’s just what we love to do. That’s why we’re here,” she says.

“When you love what you do, you do it better.”

Becoming a PA

Cindee enrolled in medical school around the age of 40. While always interested in the medical field, having a husband, three kids, two dogs and elderly parents came first. She began taking prerequisites at Eastern Virginia Medical School (some of her early college coursework had relapsed) before being accepted to PA School.

She says there were 53 seats for more than 1,300 applicants for her class. Her father passed away the day she was offered an interview for the school, and her mother died of lung cancer following her first full school year.

They were the inspiration long before their passing to enter the medical profession.

Cindee says she watched her father have a stroke in front her while on vacation. He was in his early 40s and she was 15.

“Watching everyone come together (at the hospital), working together, it just reminded me of an orchestra,” she says. “Everyone knew their part and did it well, and it was comforting to see that.”

She spent a lot of time taking both of her parents to and from various doctors’ appointments and was dissatisfied with what appeared to be general disregard for them as patients.

“I don’t want anybody to go through that. It’s been in me (to be in medicine) ever since I was exposed to that,” she says. “We get close to our patients.”

She recalled a story of a woman she was getting ready to put on hospice care. Cindee reviewed the history one more time and found a medication she couldn’t identify on the chart. She consulted with palliative care coordinator Dr. Sharon Petitjean, who agreed the woman could come off the drug. Within three to four months, the woman was recovered enough she could go home.

“Going that extra step for her literally changed her life and the direction of her life,” Cindee says. “My thank you is somebody getting better. Outside of rehab, medically, they’re better because of me.

“Taking the extra time on a patient means the world. That’s the motivation.”

VHS focuses on career development, promotion from within

Haley Holland had a good feeling about her test when she left the exam room on a Friday morning. She turned in her exam without reviewing it to prevent her from second-guessing herself. And her proctor indicated she likely passed her long-term care administrator’s licensure exam.

The weekend was more celebratory than stressed. The Virginia Board of Long-Term Care Administrators confirmed her license by Tuesday.

Haley started at Virginia Health Services as the recreation director at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She entered the Administrator-in-Training (AIT) program near the beginning of the year and completed her hours while on the job. She was promoted to Coliseum’s Assistant Administrator in the spring.

“Coliseum is so diverse, anything that’s going to happen in long-term care, it’s going to happen at Coliseum,” she says. “I know that I am where I need to be right now so I can get the best experience that I can.”


Haley shadowed employees in all departments to understand their roles during the AIT program. While day-to-day focuses on operations and environmental services, Haley said she also needed to focus on finance, management and leadership.

The exam sections covered finance, customer care support and services, human resources, environmental services and management.

Time with Coliseum Administrator Dudley Haas and several VHS vice presidents was valuable to the learning process. Those conversations and notes of encouragement also were valuable personally.

“I really felt encouraged, like people cared that I was taking this test and wanting to advance in VHS,” Haley says.

She observed Dudley’s leadership through interactions with team members, Residents and their families. Haley walked through financials and asked questions all while helping to manage the day-to-day operations at Coliseum.

“The last two weeks of preparation, I studied any time I had free time. Any time. I had my flashcards everywhere,” she says. “I was constantly taking practice tests; looking at my flashcards … I asked anybody who walked through Coliseum questions. I recruited a lot of people to help me study.

“Dudley said, ‘I want to see you do well.’ ”

A majority of the questions on the licensure exam focused on Resident care, or regulations regarding Resident care and environmental services.

“It gets you to think about what’s the best route for everyone involved. … A lot of the questions were things I do day-to-day,” Haley says. The study materials helped immensely.

Haley Holland is “where I need to be” at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center as Assistant Administrator.

Drawn to senior care

Haley says her first job out of college was in an assisted living with focused memory care.

“I just knew it was going to be older adults the rest of my career,” she says after initially considering being a teacher.

She loves the Resident stories and learning from their life experiences. Eventually she says she may want to be an administrator for assisted living, where there are fewer regulations that control the Resident experience.

“At the facility, you see exactly what your efforts are doing. You have a direct line to the Residents,” she says.

Promoting from within

Haley said she was encouraged to enroll in the AIT program and used her time on the job to gain the hours needed to complete the program.

She says the administrator’s license provides her with multiple opportunities in long-term care. It was the best way forward in her career.

“It broadened my horizons with my future … doing the AIT and taking my exam, the possibilities are endless,” she says of what might be next. Right now, Coliseum is where she wants to be.

She plans to keep up her continued education credits for her license. Haley’s future paths could include assisted living, independent living or a specialization within long-term care, such as memory care or dialysis.

“It’s just exciting – opens up possibilities for a lot of things with my license,” she says.

VHS is committed to workforce development and promotes from within.

“The support that I get (from the team at VHS) is incredible,” she says. “Things like that, people really care; you feel supported and you can keep moving. I’m really thankful VHS helped financially with the test and the AIT. Overall, I’m grateful for the VHS community.”

Join our team

Be part of a team who wants you to succeed. Our career pathways include leadership, nursing, dietary, housekeeping, environmental services, social work and more. Visit vahs.com/careers and apply for a position that fits you.

Coliseum’s Plant Operations Director to retire after 40 years of service

It was still Coliseum Park and just opening when Roslyn Shields started working as a laundry supervisor.

She has spent her career in Environmental Services. Over the years her position changed to include overseeing laundry, housekeeping and custodians as Plant Operations Director. She also serves as an administrator on call.

She retires Sept. 23, 2022, after 40 years at Coliseum, which was purchased by Virginia Health Services in 2013.

Coliseum roots run deep

Ros says she has a lot of personal memories in Coliseum. Friends she has made, learning how to be a manager, and it is where she met her husband. He was working in the maintenance department at Coliseum Park, “and one thing led to another,” she says with a laugh.

The Residents have kept her coming back to work for 40 years.

“I have a heart for the elderly population,” she says.

Ros recruited Luwanda Palmer 17 years ago to work in the laundry room of Coliseum. Luwanda handles the Residents’ clothing.

“This is my space,” Luwanda Palmer says of the room where Residents’ clothing and other laundered items are kept.

The washer never stops running, she says with a smile. Each person takes on a role, washing towels, clothes, linens.

“I like the Residents,” Luwanda says. “I like making sure everything is neat for them.”

She also loves to hear their stories. “I try to make sure they’re comfortable,” she says.

And you can never stop ordering supplies, Ros says. She tries to have two cases of toilet paper on hand at all times (that’s 96 rolls per case!) and plenty of detergent, cleaning solutions and disinfectant.

“I don’t like to run low,” she says. Her office is around the corner from the supply storage so she can keep an eye on things.

She is a cancer survivor, in remission for seven years. She says she worked through the treatments, only calling out once. She takes pride in having a stable department.

“I think they have shown appreciation for the way I manage,” she says of her team. “I only ask you respect me, your coworkers and do your job.”

Personal history

Ros moved to Hampton with her family when she was in the sixth grade. She is a graduate of Hampton High. Her son lives in Newport News. Her three grandchildren range in age from 16 to 28. The youngest plays varsity football for Woodside High School.

“I won’t go to the game – I don’t want to see him take a hit,” she says, but still pulls up a game highlight on her phone of him running in a touchdown. “That’s all I need to see.”

She was born in Philadelphia. Her father was in the Air Force, and before being stationed in and settling in Hampton, the family moved all over, including to New Hampshire, North Carolina, England and Florida. He commuted on the weekends from Hampton to Andrews AFB the last year before retiring.

“I traveled a lot,” she says. She has three younger brothers.

In retirement she would like to travel, and views post-Coliseum as “another journey.” She figures she will work somewhere part-time, though, not really ready to commit to sitting at home watching TV with her husband. That won’t happen until she takes some time for herself, she says.

“I don’t know where that time went,” she says. “I’m going to miss everybody. Walking out of here is going to be sentimental. I’ll visit occasionally.”

The industrial washing machines at Coliseum, and all VHS facilities, are always going to keep items clean and fresh.

EVS Week

Environmental Services Week is celebrated Sept. 11-17 by the Association for the Health Care Environment. Virginia Health Services is showing its appreciation for our EVS team by treating them to lunch this week. The team is responsible for keeping our communities clean and safe spaces for the individuals in our care and their visitors.

Our EVS team members have direct contact with our Residents and work closely with the clinical staff. We appreciate their diligence in providing sanitized, clean and safe communities for VHS.

You can join our team! View our openings and apply at vahs.com/careers.