Virginia Health Services thanks its team on National Nurses Day

Virginia Health Services celebrates its nursing staff on National Nurses Day (May 6) and every day.

“They are the backbone of this company,” said Rebecca Boyd, Virginia Health Services Vice President of Nursing.

Virginia Health Services thanks its team on National Nurses Day

VHS Vice President of Nursing Rebecca Boyd

The team pulled through a tough year as a pandemic raged. And then again as new variants occurred.

“We couldn’t have done it without them,” Boyd said. “I truly appreciate them.

“We need to thank our nurses. It’s a hard job. It’s not just physically demanding, it’s mentally and emotionally demanding. We should thank them for their service.”

The experience, skills and knowledge the VHS nursing staff has makes them a valued resource.

“We want to continue to support their education, training and provide resources to help our team do their jobs effectively, so they can be the best nurses they can be,” Boyd said.

Nurses play an integral role in the healthcare and overall wellbeing of patients and residents.

“It’s holistic,” Boyd said. “They are invested in the relationship; they take care of the whole person, in addition to their healthcare concerns.”

VHS employs about 250 nurses, and there is a constant need for more.

VHS is investing in its team. It recently launched an apprenticeship program to develop Care Assistants to Nursing Assistants. The program aims to include development apprenticeships for LPN and RN tracks as well.

Virginia Health Services is hiring for nurses at all levels. Join a team that takes pride in its employees and values the work of nurses. Read more about the available positions on the VHS Careers page.

Virginia Health Services thanks its nursing team for its dedication to the care for its patients and residents.

James River DON shares wisdom from many years with VHS

Virginia Health Services is shining a light on our team members. We want to spotlight the roles our team members play to support individuals to live their best life and showcase the VHS culture. With National Nurses Day on Friday, we are highlighting James River’s Director of Nursing Peggy Evans, who has been a part of the Virginia Health Services family since the 1980s.

There is something about Virginia Health Services that keeps Peggy Evans coming back.

Evans, the Director of Nursing (DON) at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, is on her third stint with VHS. She started with the company as an LPN in the 1980s.

The elderly always has been her passion. She watched her grandparents get older, and says she wanted to make a difference after seeing her grandfather die from leukemia.

“I tried getting out of (working with elderly) a couple of times,” she says with a smile, “but it didn’t work. I wound up right back here.”

Evans left VHS the first time because her child arrived two months ahead of schedule. When she went back to work, it was with the VA as a charge nurse for spinal cord injuries. She worked with a doctor at TPMG and finished RN school.

That’s when she returned to nursing center care. She then became a trainer and after completing a computer course at CNU was traveling often. At some point, the travel between the tunnels became too much.

“I accepted for the third time with VHS and have been here ever since,” she said.

James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center IP nurse Danielle Lynch chats with Director of Nursing Peggy Evans.


It’s the Residents and the staff who have kept her with Virginia Health Services, she said.

Evans was a trainer on the VHS education team, overseeing York, Gloucester and Lancashire. When the drive became too much — “I no longer have to fill up every week” — she returned as DON at James River in February 2021.

Peggy Evans looks at a woman filling glasses from a pitcher.
Evans chats with a team member filling drinking glasses for delivery to the Residents on the unit.

It was a difficult time for her. She had just lost her mother and had two other close deaths over the course of two years. Now her commute is six minutes from her home.

“I like what I do,” she said. “I’m a people person. I enjoy the families and the Residents.”

She was resistant to being a RN — “I wanted hands on,” she said.

While the DON role is more paperwork than people some days, she says she can sneak in a cigarette occasionally with Residents. And she dances “when my bones, when my joints will let me.

“I like being involved and seeing a smile on their face.”

Words of wisdom

Evans has a lot of advice for new hires to her nursing team. And she says she faces them all with an open-door policy — “let’s talk through a problem or an issue.”

“I check on new hires at least once daily,” she says. “I like being out there (on the floor).”

Her best advice for a new hire: “Do what you’re supposed to do the right way, every day. … Then you don’t have to worry about how to do it the right way.”

She also suggests being receptive to constructive criticism.

And she recommends the nursing staff listen to the CNAs.

“They know the Residents best,” she said.

Some of the CNAs at James River have been there for 30 years. Some nurses too. Sometimes it takes time to get a seasoned employee on the same page as a new hire. Evans recommends patience.

“We admit families, too,” she said. “We all become a team and work together to help the Resident.

“A happy staff makes happy care.”

James River DON Peggy Evans speaks with two employees at the nurses station.
James River DON Peggy Evans speaks with two employees at a nurses station at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

VHS family

Virginia Health Services is Resident and employee oriented, she said.

What’s made Evans return to VHS time after time?

“VHS is family. I have been very well taken care of by VHS in my tenure here, even with all the hardships and deaths in my family,” she says.

And she leaves this nugget of wisdom, which is universally applicable: “I feel like change is good because it opens up another rainbow. It gets you going in another direction.”

Join the team

Virginia Health Services is hiring nurses, including several positions at James River. Want to work with Peggy? Apply for the ADON position, or as a CNA, LPN or RN. Visit for a complete list of job opportunities at James River and with VHS.

Charge nurse finds niche on Walter Reed’s Memory Care unit

Sometimes you find exactly what you’re looking for in a career, even later in life.

For Christine Brooks, an LPN at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, taking ownership in the care of the Residents on the Abingdon Memory Care unit made her realize even after 30 years in long-term care, you can grow into a different role.

“I never thought I’d be a charge nurse. I thought I’d be a floor nurse for the rest of my life, and I was cool with it,” she said. “After working in Memory Care, working with (the Residents) consistently and really getting to know them, and (the Walter Reed team) giving me the opportunity to do what I’ve been able to do here … I’m not going anywhere.”

Brooks is the charge nurse for the Abingdon unit. Walter Reed Administrator Bryant Hudgins said once the revamped Memory Care unit opened earlier this year, Brooks really took ownership of the unit.

When Abingdon opened, Brooks said she asked Walter Reed Director of Nursing Lana Ketch to be a part of it.

“I love Memory Care,” Brooks said. “I don’t know why.”

But she does. It’s clear in every sentence when she talks about the Residents.

Much of Brooks’ family has passed away, except for her children and brother. She says the Residents are her family.

“I just want the unit to feel like family,” she said.

It extends from the Residents and their families to the staff on the unit.

“We’re all in this together. We have to make the best of it, make it work. This is their home,” Brooks said.

Encouraging family to visit can sometimes be a challenge because it’s discouraging the Resident doesn’t remember who they are or that they visited.

“Just being there will make them happy even if they don’t quite know who you are,” she said. “You see that glimmer, even if it’s just for a second.”

What is Memory Care?

Residents live on secured Memory Care units to prevent wandering. They are memory-impaired, including having dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The units have private dining and relaxation areas. Abingdon also has a Snoozelen Room, which can be used for sensory therapy such as mood lighting and aroma therapy.

Walter Reed is recruiting team members for its Memory Care units, which have occupancy for up to 51 Residents. There is a need for nursing staff, among other positions.

What it takes

Consistency in staffing is key for Residents on the Memory Care unit.

“When I have regular staff who knows the team and knows the Residents, you build rapport with them,” Brooks said.

Knowing what to expect on the unit goes a long way. Being flexible and having patience are necessary.

“Knowing the process, what calms them, it helps avoid agitating a Resident,” she said.

“To me, it’s not complicated. It’s more common sense. … A lot of memory care is being flexible and being able to ad lib and roll with it. … You are not going to retrain them to do something. You have to redirect them.”

During meals, Brooks plays music to help calm and focus the Residents while they eat.

“They eat so much better,” she said.

She goes through a list of questions when there is a new admission, asking family members what the Resident likes, what are their behaviors and triggers, what types of music they enjoy and what they did in their lives.

“Anything they can think of that can benefit their mom or their dad to communicate with us,” she said.

“You can have somebody having a bad day, put on some music and they can snap out of it.”

There are about 15 Residents on Abingdon right now. A few are more active than others, but it’s a “very good mix. You can see them build relationships with each other,” Brooks said. They sit on the couch in the common area and chat and laugh.

Knowing what types of sensory redirection a Resident needs can settle them.

“I’m not a huggy person, but you can look at person and know they need that comfort,” Brooks said of hugging others or acting like a goofball if it helps a Resident.

“If you truly want to make a difference, if you truly want to do something … Make their lives better. Ask, ‘what can I do?’,” Brooks said.

Christine Brooks stands at the nurses’ station on the Abingdon unit, which houses Residents who need Memory Care.

Big plans

“I’ve got plans for this place,” Brooks said.

She’s pitching several ideas to help Residents “be as independent as possible.” That includes a walking club to help settle some of the more restless Residents. Brooks walks with one Resident regularly and it helps settle him, Assistant Administrator Nicole Beck said.

To execute ideas, Brooks knows she has the support of her leadership and team. Hudgins, Beck, Ketch and others are receptive to ideas that help the Residents live their best life.

“I’ve got some awesome staff,” she said. “We couldn’t do what we are doing without the support of Walter Reed team. … We want families to be comfortable when they come in.”

She said she may over-communicate with family, but it ensures families know what is happening with their loved ones.

“The family’s biggest fear is you’re hiding something from them,” she said.

Brooks says she is going to see her plans through.

“I would never want to do anything else. I don’t see myself ever not being a part of this. … I have no intentions of spreading my wings anywhere other than here.”

Apply now

There’s no better time to start a path in Memory Care. Our wages start at $15.50-$21/hour for CNAs, $25-$33/hour for LPNs and $30-$40/hour for RNs. VHS offers generous shift differentials and pick-up bonuses, and the benefits of working with an experienced team.

Virginia Health Services offers assistance in pursuing nursing education, and full- and part-time positions are eligible for benefits including health and dental insurance, and paid leave. VHS also offers a 401K retirement plan to eligible employees.

Get started today at

TNAs get hands-on training before pairing with mentors

It’s not every day you get to practice using machinery on an instructor. But one recent afternoon, that’s exactly what two newly hired Temporary Nurse Aides (TNAs) got to do while going through their 20-hour training courses at Virginia Health Services’ EEE Center.

The trainees were paired up with two seasoned VHS Certified Nurse Aides (CNAs) as they lifted instructor Nora Gillespie out of bed, into a wheelchair and then back into bed. The training was done at the Employment, Enrichment and Education (EEE) Center in Newport News, where Virginia Health Services onboards and trains new employees.

The hands-on experience allowed the TNAs to ask questions, experience the equipment and see how to avoid pitfalls, such as accidentally letting a patient’s head or legs bang into the lift.

“If you let my feet hit there,” Nora said, pointing to the equipment’s base while swinging in the sling during the transfer lesson, “I have fragile skin, I bruise. And I’m going to let you know it.”

“It’s why this takes two people,” Erica Donaldson said. She has been with Virginia Health Services for 21 years and is a CNA at Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She also is now a Senior Ambassador, which means she will help oversee TNAs at her facility for two weeks before they acquire a full patient load.

Students and Ambassadors listen to instructor Nora Gillespie, seated in a wheelchair in the center, as they learn to lift her back into the bed using a large piece of equipment.
Instructor Nora Gillespie, center, works with (clockwise) Koreen Hill, Erica Donaldson, Olympia Stephens and Tracy Moore during a recent training sessions at Virginia Health Services’ EEE Center in the Port Warwick area of Newport News.

Ambassador program

Erica was working with fellow Senior Ambassador Tracy Moore, who is a CNA James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and has been with VHS for 24 years.

The Ambassador program was launched to reward seniority and help develop training and communication within the facilities and across VHS.

Erica and Tracy were helping Nora train Olympia Stephens and Koreen Hill. Olympia will join Erica at Northampton and Koreen will join the team at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

“I love what we’re learning,” Koreen said.

Nora said the program has given long-time CNAs a chance to see what new hires are learning, which can better prepare them to train them on the floor and what areas to work with them on to improve their skills.

“It’s good when the staff comes in to participate and give their insight,” she said.

Transition to apprenticeship program

To help fill staff vacancies at nursing home facilities in Virginia, then-Gov. Ralph Northam allowed the hiring of Temporary Nurse Aides.

The goal is to get new hires trained and on the floor quickly, in addition to providing them with a facility mentor who will help shepherd new hires into the apprenticeship program. The earn-as-you learn apprenticeship covers the cost of a five-week training course that develops Care Assistants to Nurse Aides. The program also covers the cost of the certification exam to be a CNA.

The 20-hour training program is “intense and condensed,” Nora said.

She says Virginia Health Services is showing through the program that it is investing to help the facilities staff properly. The TNAs are a “tremendous advantage,” she said. It’s also a stepping stone for the full CNA apprenticeship class.

“It’s a win-win,” Nora said.

Visit our Careers page and apply for the Care Assistant program today to join Virginia Health Services and be part of a team where training and experience are valued.

VHS celebrates our long-term care administrators

It’s Long-Term Care Administrators Week!

The American College of Health Care Administrators (ACHCA) established the week to recognize the “key players in the care team.” Administrators “are entrusted with the responsibility of managing the care of our loved ones. They touch the lives of residents and families, and, most importantly, ensure that their staff provides the highest level of quality care to a vulnerable population.”

Virginia Health Services celebrates our Administrators at our nursing and rehabilitation centers! They dedicate their time and attention to their Residents and team members. They multi-task and do whatever they can to make their centers feel like home, all while providing leadership and support to their entire team.

Please join us in thanking our long-term care Administrators and Assistant Administrators and get to know them in their Q&As below.

Coliseum Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

Coliseum Administrator Dudley Haas.

Dudley Haas, Administrator

Years with Virginia Health Services: 9 years.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? I started as a QA (Quality Assurance) nurse for the hours and ended up in the Administrator-in-Training program.

How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? Every day is different.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? Some of the issues and concerns that we deal with daily.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? Quilting.

Haley Holland was promoted to Assistant Administrator last week. She served as Activity Director as Coliseum prior to her promotion.

James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Stephen Berczek
James River Assistant Administrator Stephen Berczek.

Stephen Berczek, Assistant Administrator

Years with Virginia Health Services: About 3.

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 the administrative roles.

How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? 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 that is unexpected? Snowboarding, riding motorcycles, traveling and golfing.

Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Our Northern Neck facility is in search of an administrator. Learn more about the position.

The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Suzanne Williams
The Newport Administrator Suzanne Williams

Suzanne Williams, Administrator

Years with Virginia Health Services: 24 years.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? In life, people close to me struggled with early onset dementia including my mom and my grandpa. It was important to me to have a career that would allow me to assist in providing support for residents as well as their families. Creating an environment that assists individuals to live their later years with happiness and dignity celebrating who they were as well as who they are now.

How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? So incredibly rewarding!

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? I think people would be surprised at how much fun we have. There are components that are very difficult but we find ways to laugh every single day.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? I am a photographer.

Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Nikki Clements
Northampton Administrator Nikki Clements

Nikki Clements is coming up on a year as Administrator. This is her second turn with Virginia Health Services. She says her true passion is serving the Residents and staff in our long-term care communities and believes that to be successful is understanding that “what you do is far greater than what you say” from Stephen Covey. In her spare time, Nikki enjoys traveling and spending time on the water with her family and their rainbow of rescued labs.

Erin Mathis is the Assistant Administrator. She wore many hats in several roles at Northampton prior to her promotion.

Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Bryant Hudgins
Walter Reed Administrator Bryant Hudgins

Bryant Hudgins, Administrator

Years with Virginia Health Services: 25 years.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? I was drawn to long-term care because I enjoy helping people and I’ve felt that at times our older, wiser community has been underserved and sometimes forgotten.

How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? Rewarding, fast-paced, unique.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The ever-changing needs of each day. There is not much of a constant. The job and its duties evolve daily.

On a different note, it can be surprising to others how upbeat and active our Residents are. Long-term care at times is looked at as an end-of-life setting, but our Residents in the facility lead very active lives, maintaining social groups, engaging in activities, etc.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? I am a board member on the Rappahannock Foundation for the Arts and work to bring all types of fine arts performances, even internationally, to the Northern Neck of Virginia. Expectedly, I enjoy coaching youth sports. I have been doing this for the last 11 years.

Nicole Beck, Assistant Administrator

Years with Virginia Health Services: Less than a year.

What drew you to a career in long-term care?  I had a family member who was in a state facility and saw what happens when an administrator has control but doesn’t have passion. I wanted to change that.

How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? Juggler at a circus.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? How much time I don’t spend in my office. And that I can easily make my 10,000 steps a day in heels.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? Driving in the snow, when we had those couple days last month. I was loving it. Being outdoors, snow sports or mudding with the family.

York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Elizabeth Cabusora
York Administrator Elizabeth Cabusora

Elizabeth Cabusora, Administrator

Years with Virginia Health Services: Started as administrator June 2021; was LPN at James River from 2008-2009.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? Caring for others — family, people of authority, peers, elderly – was part of my upbringing.

How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? Compassion is required.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? You can utilize your talents in your workplace — we all appreciate the effort!

What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? Karaoke 😊

Jordan Kay, Assistant Administrator

Jordan Kay
York Assistant Administrator Jordan Kay

Years with Virginia Health Services: Almost a year and a half.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? I was drawn to working in long-term care for many reasons. The main reason is that I wanted to help those who have shaped all of us and the world into what we are today. I love being the reason one of my Resident’s smiles.

How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? Rewarding, fun, and a reason to smile.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? One moment I could be fixing a TV then the next moment I could be playing checkers with a Resident.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? I love spending my time off outside, whether that is hiking in the summer or snowboarding in the winter.

VHS celebrates Healthcare Human Resources Week

Virginia Health Services celebrates its human resources department for Healthcare Human Resource Week (March 14-18).

The American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration uses the week to highlight the behind-the-scenes department, which manages the individuals who work for VHS and its HR processes.

The two-person team at Virginia Health Services help manage onboarding new employees, benefits, employee relationships and more. Meet our team:

Shaleena Brown, Human Resources Manager

Shaleena Brown
Human Resources Manager Shaleena Brown.

Time with Virginia Health Services: 1 year.

What drew you to a position in healthcare human resources? HR is my passion. Coming in to ensure the company gets to the place they desire to be is a challenge that I am always up for!

How do you support team members at VHS? Listening. I help us work together to improve processes and promote empowerment, while staying compliant.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? Being a counselor.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? Karaoke.

Personal tidbits: I am a homebody.

Michael Smith, HR Associate

HR Associate Michael Smith

Time with Virginia Health Services: 6 months.

What drew you to a position in healthcare human resources? To be a part of an ever-growing industry and make a difference in the employee experience.

How do you support team members at VHS?  We help our team members in multiple areas such as administering health benefits and affirmative action reporting.  We also work closely with other departments to ensure the onboarding process for newly hired employees flows smoothly and that they are accurately entered into the system.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? I think what is surprising about HR is how many functions we are responsible for. The few I mentioned above are just a small fraction of the overall responsibility of an HR department.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? I was a Security Forces K9 Handler for the U.S. Air Force and I love spending time with my German Sheppard, Piper.

Personal tidbits: Playing golf and spending time with family.

Virginia Health Services apprentices reflect on experience so far

National Apprenticeship Week is Nov. 15-21. Virginia Health Services used the week to highlight graduates from the Care Assistant to Nurse Aide earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program.

The apprenticeship includes paid training and covers the cost of the state certification exam to be a CNA.

The program has had five classes graduate this year, with a sixth cohort currently in progress. Students get about a month of paid classroom and clinical training, and VHS employs graduates in our nursing and rehabilitation centers following graduation.

The success of the program has led to Virginia Health Services developing a full Career Advancement Program (CAP) to grow its workforce in culinary and environmental services as well with additional paid training and leadership development.

This week, current employees in culinary and environmental services were invited to partake in the program.

Virginia Health Services participates in the Healthcare Apprenticeship Expansion Program (HAEP), which is funded with a Department of Labor grant. The apprenticeship offers paid, on-the-job training.

Our graduates

Michael Polite, James River

VHS apprentice Michael PoliteMichael Polite is a Nurse Aide at James River Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center. He started in environmental services at James River, then enrolled in the apprenticeship program.

He says he was drawn to senior care after helping care for his grandmother.

The September graduate is studying for the state boards, and is confident he’ll pass because of his training with VHS instructor Nora Gillespie. The training program includes classwork and learning 22 clinical skills.

“You use everything she teaches you,” he said of his daily routine. “She really emphasizes dignity and respect, and so if I can put a smile (on a Resident’s face), when I walk out of the room, I feel like I’ve done my job.”

Jessica Campbell & Devyn Hotop, CNAs, The Newport

Jessica Campbell and Devyn Hotop are CNAs at The Newport. They were in the third apprenticeship cohort that graduated in July and they passed their certification exam in September.

Hotop, the class salutatorian, said being in the program made her realize she wants to be in healthcare.

“I think what really stood out was clinical (skills on the floor),” Hotop said. “and just how happy everybody was with our care and the way they are doing. And the patients were just motivating us throughout the whole process. I think that made me feel good. I want to be here, it made me want to do it. And definitely having the help from one another.”

Campbell and Hotop bonded fast in class and now as coworkers. They rely on one another during shifts and like working together. Both say they can hear instructor Nora Gillespie’s voice in the back of their minds, encouraging them and walking them through all the steps they learned in class.

Both say they feel supported in their roles at The Newport. Campbell and Hotop said their CNA training has them interested in pursuing nursing career paths as an LPN or RN.

“It’s all worth it,” Hotop said.

Donae Mcdonald, York

Donae Mcdonald is a Nurse Aide at York Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center. She was in the fifth cohort and graduated in October.

Mcdonald’s class was co-taught by instructors Nora Gillespie and Princess Henderson. They made an impact on her. “Ms. Nora and Princess are great teachers and VHS has a good program,” she said.

It was the earn-as-you-learn paid training that Mcdonald said drew her to the opportunity. She is exploring nursing school options, and enrolled in pre-requisite classes with Thomas Nelson Community College.

She says the apprenticeship program is “a great opportunity because at first you are here (as a Care Assistant) and shadowing a Nurse Aide, and I feel like at that point you can see if there’s something that is beneficial for you.”

Dana Turner, CNA, York

VHS apprentice Dana TurnerDana Turner, who is a CNA at York, was in the third cohort and graduated in July.

Instructor Nora Gillespie said she was like bubbles and champagne, with her positivity just radiating out toward the Residents she worked with on the floor during clinicals.

She’s still bubbly now, having passed her certification exam and fulfilling a dream decades in the making. After spending more than 10 years housekeeping in hospitality, she is working in senior care as a CNA.

“I have wanted to do this forever, but I never could afford to not get paid 4-to-6 weeks taking a class. There wasn’t a program like this,” she said.

She also has a little seasoning now, and with experience comes perspective. She likes working with current students who are working on their clinical skills at York. She likes helping the Care Assistants learn the ropes.

And Turner knows empathy is key to doing the job well. “I just try to find ways not to make (the Residents) feel so bad (about not being able to do things for themselves),” she said. “It’s why I’m here!”

Turner said the program, particularly the instruction provided, is a great way to start in healthcare.

“I just love it!” she says.

Culinary and EVS apprentices

This week, we invited team members in our culinary and environmental services departments to participate in paid training and leadership development as part of VHS’ expanding Career Advancement Program. Team members from Coliseum, James River and corporate fill out the first field of apprentices in those areas.

Apprenticeships available

A career in healthcare could be the right fit for you, too. Learn more about Virginia Health Services’ career opportunities at

Virginia Health Services CNA apprenticeship program adds instructor

Virginia Health Services’ apprenticeship program, which graduates Care Assistants to eventual Certified Nurse Assistants (CNAs), is undergoing a transition in instructors.

The VHS education team is adding instructor Princess Henderson, who has been with the company since 2008.

She is being guided on the ins and outs of the apprenticeship class by instructor Nora Gillespie, who after a career in nursing and education, is retiring.

Well, semi-retiring. Gillespie says she’ll be focused on education for VHS two days a week.

Ann Armstrong, who instructed the apprenticeship classes on the Middle Peninsula, also is leaving. She joins Rappahannock Community College as an instructor for their Nurse Aide program and will lead instruction for their clinical LPN and RN programs.

That means she won’t be far – the LPN and RN programs train at VHS’s Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Gloucester.

The coursework was revamped earlier this year by Gillespie and Armstrong based on the state’s criterium changes. Gillespie refers to it as a “bootcamp.”

The students have to go through pages of presentations, tests and learn 22 clinical skills, such as how to take blood pressure and wound care.

The fifth apprenticeship class is slated to graduate Oct. 26, with the sixth class to start Nov. 1. It will be the last group of apprentices for the year – another class is slated to start in January.

This class

Armstrong’s final day with VHS was Oct. 14. Her students in this fifth cohort completed their coursework and clinicals, working while awaiting graduation.

The 11 students enrolled at Walter Reed and at the EEE Center in Newport News will work as Nurse Aides at James River, Coliseum and Walter Reed while completing their certification exam reviews to become CNAs.

Ann Armstrong had three students in her class at Walter Reed

Virginia Health Services’ fifth cohort of CNA apprentices graduates Oct. 26, 2021. There were three students at Walter Reed Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center in this cohort.

“They’ve been great,” Armstrong said of her three students. “I’ve learned a lot from them, that’s for sure.”

Teaching is getting to know someone. “I wanted them to succeed, and they have,” Armstrong said.

“It’s amazing to see when someone comes here with no (clinical) knowledge, then they leave this classroom with the skills. Amazing to see someone learn; to see that lightbulb go off.”

Armstrong has been a nurse for 23 years, and an instructor since 2017. She joined VHS about a year ago from Riverside.

Her advice to students, current and future: “Study. Be open. Healthcare is ever changing. Be open to change. Do the right thing every time. You do that, you cannot make a mistake.”

Teaching the course during the COVID-19 pandemic has meant adjusting, Gillespie said. Infection prevention is covered on the first day, and that now includes emphasis on COVID and the proper way to wear the additional layers of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Students are tested regularly and encouraged to be vaccinated. They come into class with familiarity, having learned to navigate the precautions in their buildings while working the floor as Care Assistants.

The future

The sixth class will be led by Henderson.

Henderson has been with VHS since 2008, and she took the course then while pregnant to become a CNA.

“It’s a lot different!” she said.

Princess Henderson is learning how to teach the apprenticeship class

Princess Henderson is learning how to teach the apprenticeship class from instructor Nora Gillespie. Virginia Health Services’ fifth cohort of CNA apprentices graduates Oct. 26, 2021.

“The program has evolved. It’s come out of the ‘Dark Ages.’ It’s so much better and easier to understand. … I did it back when you had to pay for the class.”

How the course material is presented and how clinical skills are taught are “more effective,” Henderson said.

“She’s a role model,” Gillespie said.

Henderson became an RN, moving up through the ranks with Virginia Health Services to become Assistant Director of Nursing at Coliseum. Her career has been dedicated to long-term care with VHS. She worked at James River and the team worked with her as she went through nursing school to help schedule her shifts with her classes.

“I’m glad to be with VHS,” she said. “They really worked with me, and I plan to stay with them as they work with me to meet my goals.”

One of those goals has been to go into education. She views Gillespie as the role model.

“I strive to be as inspirational and firm as her,” Henderson said. “Firm but fair.”

“My goal truly is for her is not to need me, because then I’ve done my job,” Gillespie said.

Words of wisdom

While Henderson’s addition is a win for the education team, the departures of Gillespie and Armstrong sting.

They built out the current program with Director of Education Bryanna Rhodes earlier this year, and both have been instructors for several years.

“I can tell them a whole bunch of stuff,” Armstrong said of teaching students information off PowerPoint slides, “But I also can give them the real-life experience. … People can relate better when you make it reality.”

While Armstrong handled teaching in-services and more at Riverside, Gillespie helped her feel at ease with the material when she joined Virginia Health Services.

“Nora is a great instructor, she’s the real deal,” Armstrong said. “She’s awesome at what she does. I hate to see her go. She is one of the best instructors I have ever seen teach this class.”

But Gillespie is ready to retire – if for no other reason than to not have to wake up at 4:30 a.m.

She says that with a grin, though. Gillespie became a nurse in the 1970s. She worked in critical and acute care, including on a Nightingale air ambulance.

“That was the best,” she said. “I still have my combat boots.”

Gillespie said she is content passing the torch to Henderson.

“In my career, I know I have saved lives. In teaching, I know I have touched lives. And I am good with that,” she said.

Part of her hand-off to Henderson is helping her understand all that is involved in teaching the class – its organization, flow, schedule and timing.

It’s also helping her learn to be an instructor, looking for that spark to ignite someone to learn a skill or grasp material. It’s helping Henderson feel comfortable on being flexible to the needs of the class and being able to adjust to help students “get it.”

Gillespie has spent seven years teaching this class. “It’s a part of me,” she said. “The program is very important to me, and I see tremendous benefit in this program. VHS is committed to it.”

“Princess shares my desire to bring out the best of students,” Gillespie said. “Princess is open, friendly, she has a smile that lights up a room and a grasp of what to do.”

Henderson appreciates having Gillespie train her.

“She’s involving me in the class and has had me do tasks to get me ready. It’s been a lot of organization, learning how to keep up with their records. Then it all comes back around to developing relationships with the students and show them how to bring what they’ve learned to how it applies to their patients.”

Instructor Nora Gillespie is congratulated by the fourth class of graduates

Instructor Nora Gillespie is congratulated by the fourth class of graduates during a ceremony in September.

Retirement, for real this time

Gillespie has threatened to retire for about a year, but had difficulty stepping away from the class she has taught for seven years and helped revamp.

Her students recognize her impact. The two previous apprenticeship classes honored her at graduation ceremonies with T-shirts of her best phrases, a retirement banner and gifts — so many meaningful gifts, such as a framed selfie she let them photograph her in.

She says she doesn’t know how to be any other way, in how she teaches and how she treats others.

“You need to bring joy,” Gillespie tells students. “You see individuals when their bodies have betrayed them. You have to treat them with respect and dignity. Being kind should not be hard.”

She’s at peace with the timing of her retirement this time.

“I can walk away with a smile on my face.”

VHS apprenticeship program

The apprenticeship program is a great opportunity, Armstrong said.

“They’re getting paid to learn. That’s a huge incentive.”

There have been more than 40 enrollees in the apprenticeship program since its launch in March. The VHS earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program is part of the Healthcare Apprenticeship Extension Program, which is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Labor.

Apprenticeship students are brought on as Care Assistants and spend about 30 days working in a VHS nursing and rehabilitation center before coursework and clinicals begin. Following completion of the classes, students then return to work at a facility and undergo review sessions to prepare for the state certification exam to become a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA).

The apprenticeship program covers the cost of the course and clinical work, and the cost of the exam. It also provides the benefit of Family Scholarship House, which can offer resources and funds to help cover academic coaching, affordable housing, transportation, child care, emergencies and more. It is available to those in the HAEP grant program at no additional cost.

The VHS apprenticeship program has plans to expand, including pathways for LPNs, and in pharmaceutical, dietary, housekeeping, and administration and leadership.

Previous cohorts graduated in AprilJune, July and September.

Learn more about the program here.

Applications to the program are accepted on a rolling basis. To apply, visit our job listing.

Virginia Health Services offers education staff and resources to help develop nursing careers

This week, Virginia Health Services honors Nursing Professional Development Week.

Virginia Health Services has a long history of encouraging development of its team members and promoting from within. View our job opportunities, and know that development is a priority at VHS.

The education team at VHS offers a variety of services to its nursing staff.

Director of Team Member Engagement Kathryn Fisher also can help connect team members to assistance, scholarship opportunities and nursing programs that offer discounts to VHS employees.

The investment in development of our nursing professionals at Virginia Health Services extends beyond our earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program.

A cornerstone program at the Education, Enrichment, Employment (EEE) Center in Port Warwick, the HAEP apprenticeship offers Care Assistants paid training to graduate to Nurse Aides. The apprenticeship also covers the cost of the certification exam.

It includes wrap-around services through Family Scholar House, which can offer resources and funds to help cover academic coaching, affordable housing, transportation, child care, emergencies and more. It is offered to those in the HAEP grant program at no additional charge throughout the course of the year of their apprenticeship.

VHS Director of Education Bryanna Rhodes said the team at the EEE offers review sessions before Nurse Aide certification exams, which include a written test and mock skills assessments.

In-house development opportunities

Nora Gillespie and Bryanna Rhodes hug during remarks at the July apprenticeship graduation ceremony.

Nora Gillespie and Bryanna Rhodes hug during remarks at the July apprenticeship graduation ceremony.

The education team also can offer prep assistance for individuals in a RN program by request.

The team also offers knowledge-based in-services and addresses pressure areas in facilities, such as setting up IV labs, PPE demos and other training. CPR certification training is offered at EEE.

The education team also is the first group to try out new equipment and deliver training.

It also welcomes new employees at orientation.

Get started

In pursuing a nursing pathway, Rhodes said talking to the education team is a “good starting point.”

The team can help with school selection and get the process going.

Cerissa Atkins, VHS Process Improvement Manager, said being prepared and setting a timeline is key. “Don’t delay,” she said of starting the process. Deciding where to go, finding financial assistance and applying takes time.

Rhodes said often the VHS facilities’ schedulers will help accommodate school schedules and be flexible with individuals on development pathways.

“The passion has to be there to work in long-term care,” Atkins said.


There are several pathways that can lead to increased salary and professional satisfaction.

Starting as a CNA can develop into a nursing career as a RN or LPN, an educator or a long-term care facility administrator.

Fisher can help individuals manage VHS’ tuition assistance and reimbursement policies, research scholarship opportunities and connect individuals with schools that might be a good fit and/or offer discounted tuition to VHS team members.

“VHS has the flexibility to believe in you,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes joined VHS in December as an educator after working six years as an acute care nurse in an emergency room. She was promoted to director of education a few months after starting.

“You can really grow in a family-centered environment at VHS,” Atkins said.

Virginia Health Services celebrates its Residents for National Assisted Living Week

This week we are highlighting Residents in Virginia Health Services’ assisted living communities as part of National Assisted Living Week.

The communities provide medical assistance to those who need help with ADLs (activities of daily living) while still maintaining independence in a private apartment home.

The Huntington at Newport and The Hamilton at The York offer these senior living options in comfortable, spacious private rooms in Newport News and York County.

Learn more about our Residents and their experiences below.

Living at The Huntington

Elaine Amnott

Elaine Amnott at The HuntingtonElaine Amnott joined The Huntington community in May 2020.

She spent time recovering from a stroke at The Newport and Huntington, where she worked with a speech therapist to learn how to talk again.

“I felt like I was in school. … The therapist was very good. She taught me and I got my speech back,” Mrs. Amnott said.

“I learned independence here – learned I can do more than I thought I could,” she said.

She was born in Newport News, but soon moved to the family tobacco farm in Morehead City, N.C.

“I was a tomboy, through and through,” she says.

She worked for six years as a profiler for the FBI in the 1960s. It’s where she met her husband, Roland John Amnott.

After spending six years with the FBI in Washington, D.C., she and her husband returned to his family home in Maine where they settled for 20 years.

They retired to Florida until Roland Amnott passed away. Elaine Amnott moved back to Newport News at the insistence of her niece who lives here and she has called The Huntington home since May 2020.

Wendy Malvin

Wendy MalvinWendy Malvin will try to tell you she’s lived at The Huntington “forever.”

She moved in July 2019.

“They treat you really well here,” she said. “They take care of your needs. The food is great.”

Originally from Morehead City, N.C., Mrs. Malvin moved to Newport News when she married her husband, a native of the area, after attending Mary Washington College.

“I love being in Newport News. It’s been my home a long time,” she said.

She was a legal secretary for the law firm of Jones, Blechman, Woltz and Kelly for more than 30 years. She also took on a volunteer administrative director role with People to People, an organization founded by one of the attorneys, Herbert V. Kelly, current Newport News Mayor McKinley Price and other civic leaders in 1992.

People to People worked to improve race relations in the city. Mrs. Malvin was featured in the Daily Press in February 2001 after being honored with People to People’s first Hero Award for her service to the organization. She keeps the clip framed in her apartment at The Huntington.

Ada Ward

Ada WardAda Ward considers herself a “pro” about assisted living communities. She helped her mother, who lived until age 97, navigate moving into assisted living.

“They truly get it right,” she said of The Huntington. The management is considerate and attentive to Residents’ needs.

One of Mrs. Ward’s daughters lives nearby, and she likes the proximity to her family. She appreciates the sense of safety and security Huntington offers.

“I’m very impressed … This is tops,” she said. She moved into the Huntington in February from another assisted living community.

Mrs. Ward is originally from Hampton, and was a buyer for Leggett department stores. She stepped away from that to bring up three children. Her late husband, Don Ward, worked for NASA on the Apollo space program. He spent much of 20 years commuting between NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton and Cape Canaveral, Florida.

“It was a very exciting time for us,” she said.

Everette White

Everette WhiteEverette White is glad to not have to move. After spending a career in the Air Force, he retired after being stationed at Langley AFB in Hampton and has called The Huntington home since October 2015.

He was an entomologist for the Air Force, retiring in 1970 after 21.5 years of service. He then worked in pest control and fumigation in Hampton.

He served in Korea and Vietnam, and he and his family – late wife Mary, a son and two daughters — lived in the Midwest, Morocco, Oklahoma, Germany and Spain during his time in the Air Force.

“We traveled all over Europe,” he said of their being stationed abroad.

“And I’ll never forget, my wife and kids flew into Casablanca dressed for Michigan winter. It was 109 degrees when they got off the plane.”

One of his daughters now lives in Illinois, and his other daughter lives nearby in Hampton, as do some of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His son passed away.

“I didn’t want to move again,” he said of selecting The Huntington. “I like it here.”

Living at The Hamilton

Rose Marie Hopkins

Rose Marie HopkinsRose Marie Hopkins joined The Hamilton community in October 2019. She moved in following the passing of her husband, Gerald Ray Hopkins in July 2019.

Gerald Ray was the love of her life – they were married for 74 years.

Mrs. Hopkins was born in 1928 in Seaford, Virginia, to a Chesapeake Bay waterman and a stay-at-home mom. Her childhood was spent going to school, playing in the creek and spending time with friends and family.

She graduated from Jeffs High School in 1944 and was named “Prettiest Girl” by her senior classmates. (Jeffs is now Poquoson High School). Back in those days, there were no high schools in York County so Mrs. Hopkins had to travel to Poquoson to complete her education.

After graduating high school, Mrs. Hopkins went to work for the federal government at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown. She learned bookkeeping and was hired to work for the Office of the Comptroller.  After the birth of her four children, Mrs. Hopkins stayed home to care for her family for the next 25 years. When her youngest child was 12, she returned to her career at the Office of the Comptroller and was ultimately promoted to Supervisor.

Mrs. Hopkins’ life has always been focused on three things: faith, family and food.

Her family was a source of joy but also a lot of work!

She has always been the backbone of the family, providing loving care and support as her family grew and thrived. Her cooking ability is legendary and she passed on many of her skills in the kitchen to her children and grandchildren.

Mrs. Hopkins is also a devout Christian and spent many years working in her church, conducting the children’s choir, singing with the adult choir, working with the annual church bazaar and serving on many committees.

She has been a member of Zion United Methodist her entire life and still attends services there.

We are glad to help Mrs. Hopkins call The Hamilton in York County home. She enjoys the outings to restaurants and museums, and visits from her loved ones.