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 vahs.com/heroes.

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.

Pathways

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.

Virginia Health Services graduates fourth class of Nurse Aide apprentices

The graduation ceremony Thursday looked a little different.

Fourth class graduates Virginia Health Services apprenticeship program

Apprentice graduation was streamed on Zoom and had limited in-person attendance.

The hybrid ceremony was streamed on Zoom, with limited in-person attendance at Virginia Health Services’ Employment, Enrichment, Education (EEE) Center in Port Warwick.

It was done to minimize risk, given rising COVID cases in the community. Each graduate was allowed one in-person attendee.

The eight apprentices graduated from Care Assistants to Nurse Aides following a vigorous classroom and clinical “boot camp.”

Six will work in Virginia Health Services facilities before taking their state certification exam to be CNAs.

The graduates are: Lindsey Valdivia (valedictorian), Maiah Banks (salutatorian), Regina Benson, Latoria Cofield, Shavonte Gary, Jessica Johnson, Shalayia Johnson and Michael Polite.

The camaraderie at every graduation is always evident – these students have spent a lot of time doing hard work together – and there are always heartfelt moments.

None more so Thursday than when the graduates added a surprise ending to the ceremony for instructor Nora Gillespie. As her solo last class before she (semi) retires, they walked out with a “Happy Retirement” banner, gifts and cake.

A fifth class – with students at Walter Reed Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center and the EEE – begins next week. Gillespie will teach her cohort at the EEE with a new instructor, handing off full-time teaching responsibilities before retiring.

The graduates are: Lindsey Valdivia (valedictorian), Maiah Banks (salutatorian), Regina Benson, Latoria Cofield, Shavonte Gary, Jessica Johnson, Shalayia Johnson and Michael Polite.

Virginia Health Services CEO Mark Klyczek addresses graduates.

Virginia Health Services CEO Mark Klyczek addresses the graduates Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.

Start of the journey

Virginia Health Services President and CEO Mark Klyczek opened the ceremony with remarks, congratulating the graduates.

“This is an important step in your career journey,” he said, “but it isn’t your only one. … There are so many options in healthcare today. …

“Go down the path that you think will get you the furthest in the long haul.”

Gillespie said it was an “intense journey” to get to graduation. The class has to get through 14 tests and learn and execute 22 skills.

“You were all up to the task,” she said. “You all said on the first day you had the heart and compassion to do this, and you demonstrated it in clinicals.”

The class did its clinical work at York Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center.

The graduates

Fourth class graduates Virginia Health Services apprenticeship program

Instructor Nora Gillespie hugs student Michael Polite.

Gillespie is never speechless when it comes to celebrating her students. She piles on the platitudes because the students earn them. She is very proud of the students she instructs.

Benson, Gillespie said, found her focus and “knocked clinicals out of the park.”

Cofield comes from a family of Virginia Health Services team members. She “glowed on the unit” during clinicals, Gillespie said. She also received Gillespie’s heart superlative, which goes to the student who gives their all in the clinical environment. Cofield “beamed,” Gillespie said. “It made me speechless.”

Gary, who is moving with her family to Texas, “talks fast and was in it to win it.” Her instruction will carry over to apply to take the certification exam in Texas.

Jessica Johnson “sat up front, center and gave 100%,” Gillespie said, adding, “You said from the start it’s in your heart and in your blood to do this.”

Shalayia Johnson didn’t let anything stop her from being in class and getting the work done, Gillespie said.

Fourth class graduates from Virginia Health Services apprenticeship program

Salutatorian Maiah Banks receives her certificate.

Polite was “determined to be successful,” she said. He earned her clinical superlative. “There was no attitude. It was always, ‘I’m on it, Ms. Nora.’ The Residents loved you.”

Banks, the salutatorian, was accepted to and started nursing school in the RN program at ECPI while finishing her class. Gillespie said she “thrived in the clinical environment.” The class, Gillespie said, set Banks up to be “an excellent nurse.”

Fourth class graduates Virginia Health Services apprenticeship program

Valedictorian Lindsey Valdivia receives her certificate from instructor Nora Gillespie and VHS CEO Mark Klyczek.

Valedictorian honors grandmother

Valedictorian Lindsey Valdivia sat in the back, Gillespie said. “Her heart is pretty amazing.”

She had perfect attendance, and top marks in class and clinicals. She also, Gillespie said, “is an outstanding individual.” She offered words of encouragement to her classmates, got snacks when the class ran out and made sure the students who had to sit out a few days after possible COVID exposure didn’t get behind.

“I’m glad to have met you,” Gillespie said. “You all benefited from what (Valdivia) did.”

Fourth class graduates Virginia Health Services apprenticeship program

Valedictorian Lindsey Valdivia honored her late grandmother wearing a scrub top with her image on it. “I know she’s with me here,” she said.

Her comments were met with applause and agreement.

Valdivia’s grandmother, who she was very close to, passed away a little over a week before graduation.

“So I decided to bring her with me,” Valdivia said, pointing to her scrub top with an image of her. “I know she’s here with me.”

“Your grandmother would be very proud of who you are,” Gillespie said.

Valdivia thanked Virginia Health Services for the opportunity in her valedictorian remarks.

“It encourages a lot of people to go further in their careers and their lives,” she said. “They made us realize our value.”

She recommended no matter what, finish what you start and “whatever you do, do it to the best you can.”

Valdivia said she got into healthcare because she saw what aging had done to her grandparents and she wanted to be an asset to others’ families dealing with aging loved ones.

Turning to Gillespie, she said, “And we couldn’t have asked for a better teacher. … She made sure we understood what she taught us. She was very patient and kind. She cared about us.”

Fourth class graduates Virginia Health Services apprenticeship program

The class carried in a retirement banner to celebrate instructor Nora Gillespie.

Retirement surprise!

The graduates stole the show at the end, rendering Gillespie speechless. To honor her impending retirement, they carried out a banner, gifts and a cake.

Fourth class graduates Virginia Health Services apprenticeship program

Instructor Nora Gillespie was rendered speechless by the retirement cake from her students.

“I’ve been trying to retire (for years),” she said, “but I keep coming back because I love what I do. I think I was put here for a reason … and it’s going to be a difficult thing to let go of.”

She had to take a minute to compose herself and thank the students.

“You’re my last solo class, and I will carry you with me always,” she said.

Apprenticeship program

Six of the graduates will continue working as Nurse Aides with Virginia Health Services at Northampton, James River, The Newport and Coliseum convalescent and rehabilitation centers. They will be able to take advantage of the exam prep offered by VHS’ education team ahead of taking their certification exams.

Previous cohorts graduated in April, June and July.

There have been 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.

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 graduates third cohort of apprentices

Virginia Health Services recognized its third class of graduates from the Nurse Aide apprenticeship with a ceremony Wednesday at The Arbors at Port Warwick in Newport News.

VHS CEO and President Mark Klyczek delivered opening remarks, telling the graduates Virginia Health Services is “fortunate to grow our own CNAs. … You are at the end of your CNA training, but the beginning of your career. There are no limits” to where you can go next.

The 10 graduates were the largest class yet for the VHS program. The fourth cohort begins Aug. 3.

The earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program trains Care Assistants to become Nurse Aides during a five-week instruction period. The apprentices are paid during their training time, and the program covers the cost of the certification exam to become a CNA.

The graduates

Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center hosted Chad Hoffman for his apprenticeship.

Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center hosted graduate Chad Hoffman for his apprenticeship.

Instructor Ann Armstrong taught one student at Walter Reed, Chad Hoffman.

“He had all eyes on him,” she said to the gathered friends and family at Wednesday’s ceremony, “and he did very well.”

The Newport News-based class came together as a team over the course of the 25 days of class and clinical instruction.

“I am happy to share everyone received an A,” instructor Nora Gillespie said. She teaches at VHS’ Employment, Enrichment and Education center in Newport News. Nine of the 10 graduates were in her class.

Graduates were Jami Brinson, Jessica Campbell, Chad Hoffman, Christine Johnson, Quedarica Jones, Tawandra Rawl, Dana Turner, Jessica Williams, salutatorian Devyn Hotop and valedictorian Shirley Weigle.

They are placed at York, The Newport, Coliseum, Northampton and Walter Reed nursing and rehabilitation centers to continue careers with Virginia Health Services.

The camaraderie and affection for one another was apparent throughout the ceremony, with barely a dry eye in the house by the end.

Weigle, in her valedictorian remarks, said that there were times in the course of being a Care Assistant, she considered quitting. She has nursing experience from her time in the Philippines, but has to be recertified in the U.S.

Apprentice valedictorian Shirley Weigle delivers remarks.

Apprentice valedictorian Shirley Weigle delivers remarks.

“There were days I would sit in my car and cry and think, why am I doing this? Then I said, no, I have dreams and I have goals,” she said.

Then she excelled in Gillespie’s class, earning top honors on tests, clinical skills and perfect attendance.

“I said thank you to Nora, she did it. And she said, no, you did it – you made it yourself” Weigle shared.

“I think we all did it. For the past month, I was with these eight beautiful girls. They shared their goals. They shared their dreams. I share this recognition with all of you.”

Gillespie awarded her entire class a “Heart Award” for the collective heart and compassion the students had for the Residents they worked with, and each other.

Surprise for Gillespie

The students surprised Gillespie at the end of the ceremony, walking back in with T-shirts designed with some of her more frequent sayings.

“You know more than you think you know.”

“I took a risk!”

“That’s cooler than dog’s lips!”

Virginia Health Services apprentices surprise instructor Nora Gillespie with T-shirts

Virginia Health Services apprentices surprise instructor Nora Gillespie with T-shirts with her best sayings on them.

Gillespie, not one for being the center of attention, hugged the T-shirt they gave her, and shook her head.

She also was given a framed photo the students took with her before the ceremony.

As the students were putting the T-shirts on over their navy-blue scrubs, Director of Education Bryanna Rhodes shared a few words to recognize Gillespie, who always recognizes each student at the graduation ceremonies.

“She has been with VHS for 7 years, and I have had the privilege of working with her since December. When you look at the classes she’s taught, the hundreds of students she’s touched … It’s always amazing to me she can create a team out of a room full of strangers.”

“CNA bootcamp”

Virginia Health Services apprentices gave instructor Nora Gillespie a framed photo they signed as a graduation gift

Virginia Health Services apprentices gave instructor Nora Gillespie a framed photo they signed as a graduation gift.

Gillespie doesn’t shy away from telling the students – or their families and friends – that the class she teaches for five weeks is hard. She doesn’t shy away from telling them that working in long-term care is hard.

She lifts up their hard work and accomplishments and shares details about each student who survives “CNA bootcamp,” as she calls it.

When class began, she asked the students why they were there.

“You all said, ‘I want to take care of someone. … I enjoy being with the elderly.’ You don’t find that every day in a group,” Gillespie said.

“Every day after clinicals, you had a story to tell about something that made you smile. … You cared about your Residents.”

Virginia Health Services apprenticeship program

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.

Previous classes graduated in April and June. The program is unusual in that it pays participants for their training, and employs the students after graduation. Learn more about the program here.

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Apply here.

Virginia Health Services celebrates CNA Week

Virginia Health Services invests in the education and growth of its CNAs with apprenticeship program

Virginia Health Services celebrates its Certified Nurses Assistants (CNAs) daily – and is thanking them during CNA Week, which begins June 17 and runs through June 23.

The week is dedicated to thanking the work of CNAs in VHS facilities, and those team members will receive lunches and other forms of recognition.

VHS is invested in its development of CNAs. While it always has offered training classes and employment opportunities, Virginia Health Services doubled-down on its commitment this year by offering an earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program.

VHS is participating in the Healthcare Apprenticeship Expansion Program (HAEP), which is funded with a Department of Labor Closing the Skills Gap Grant and has an emphasis on careers in senior living. Employer partners are reimbursed for a portion of their apprentice training costs.

A new cohort begins every five to six weeks, and two classes have graduated from the program from Care Assistants to Nurses’ Aides. Most are employed by VHS’s nursing and rehabilitation facilities as they prepare for the state certification exam to be a CNA.

The VHS education team aids in exam-prep with review sessions and other resources.

CNAs essential to long-term care

Apprentices check their cart stock while gaining their clinical experience at York Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center.

As VHS celebrates CNA Week, it recognizes the important role CNAs play in caring for Residents.

“They are essential to long-term care,” says instructor Nora Gillespie. “They are the eyes and ears for the nurses. They spend the most time with the Residents.”

VHS Director of Education Bryanna Rhodes said often CNAs are the first person a Resident sees in the morning and the last person they see at night. CNAs are responsible for grooming care, helping Residents dress and a host of skills that put them on the frontlines of Resident care.

“The students are invested in the Residents,” Gillespie said, “and the Residents are invested in the students.”

Revamped course

The state of Virginia recently updated and revised its training objectives for CNAs. Gillespie, Rhodes and instructor Ann Armstrong recently restructured the CNA training program to make it more visually engaging as they factored in how best to present a curriculum of nearly 400 pages to students.

“VHS has an excellent program. It’s a good way to launch your career,” Gillespie said.

Apprentices learn 22 skills and cover over 650 PowerPoint slides over the course of five weeks. The course covers laws of long-term care, HIPPA, COVID best practices, residents’ rights, safety, infection control and how care should be delivered.

They spend six days in a VHS facility to gain clinical experience.

The training is paid. The apprentices also become employees of VHS in that time, and there is continually room to grow and educational opportunities. The apprenticeship program pays for its participants to take the certification exam once their Nursing Assistant certificate is completed.

“It’s more than just a CNA class,” said Rhodes, “it’s an opportunity for growth and to gain experience.”

The apprenticeship class works on patient care, including how to change linens, with instructor Nora Gillespie.

There are several VHS employees who have advanced in the company after starting their careers as CNAs, including Walter Reed Administrator Bryant Hudgins and Coliseum Assistant Director of Nursing Princess Williams.

Benefits of Virginia Health Services apprenticeship

VHS offers the continuing education tools to make it possible.

Rhodes said VHS has relationships with several nursing schools, and it also offers tuition reimbursement.

“It’s more than getting a CNA in the building,” Rhodes said. “It’s a career with VHS.”

The class is just the beginning for students, Gillespie said.

And with smaller class sizes – limited by the state to 10 students per instructor – VHS’s education staff can really focus on the students and get to know them.

“The students are our coworkers,” Rhodes said. “We create an atmosphere of wanting our team members to succeed.”

The focus on students allows instructors like Gillespie and Armstrong to find what motivates them.

“You help them find the light within themselves,” Gillespie said.

The apprenticeship program also helps alleviate barriers to employment for the students. There is assistance available 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.

Family Scholar House is available to apprentices throughout the course of the year of their apprenticeship.

CNAs have always been needed on the frontlines

CNAs have always been on the frontlines. The profession began around the time of World War I, and certified nurses’ aides with the American Red Cross worked alongside Army nurses to treat wounded soldiers.

Valedictorian Sabrina Baylor receives her certificate from instructor Nora Gillespie.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in health care to grow 15% from 2019 to 2029, adding about 2.4 million new jobs. The Bureau attributes the projected growth to an aging population and increased need in health care services.

The VHS apprenticeship program will expand. There are several opportunities being examined, including pathways for LPNs, and in pharmaceutical, dietary, housekeeping, and administration and leadership.

A new cohort of apprentices starts June 21, and it’s the largest class yet at 14 students on the Peninsula and Middle Peninsula.

Visit the Careers page to learn more and how to apply. Virginia Health Services has a continued need to add heroes to its frontlines.

If you see a CNA this week, remember to thank them for their care and service to a loved one.

Second cohort of Virginia Health Services apprentices graduate to Nursing Aides

Virginia Health Services’ second cohort of Care Assistants graduated Friday at The Arbors at Port Warwick.

It is the second Virginia Health Services apprenticeship class. The earn-as-you learn apprenticeship program pays participants to take the classes and complete clinical work necessary to move from Care Assistants to Nursing Aides.

The graduates will take the state certification in about a month to qualify as CNAs.

A class of six started May 3, taught by Nora Gillespie at VHS’s Employment, Enrichment and Education (EEE) Center in Port Warwick. One student worked through the program with instructor Ann Armstrong at Lancashire Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center in Kilmarnock.

Participants had to learn 22 skills in 26.5 days. There were tests, lessons and hands-on work.

Virginia Health Services apprenticeship graduates

Virginia Health Services apprenticeship graduates take their seats during a ceremony June 4, 2021.

“It was very challenging, but they were up to the task,” Gillespie proudly told the graduates and their friends and families in attendance at Friday’s ceremony. “You did it, and you didn’t do it alone.”

In opening remarks, VHS Vice President of Operations Don Lundin congratulated the group, telling them, “There is so much need for what you are about to embark in. … It’s hard work. … It’s meaningful work.

“We are here to celebrate everything you are about to accomplish.”

Gillespie shared that the students bonded as a team.

“I’ve never had a class as focused as they were,” she said.

She shared sentiments about each graduate. Common threads included the team being compassionate, treating their patients with dignity and respect, and being organized and efficient.

Valedictorian Kimberlynne Watkins, a recent Hampton University graduate, said in her speech, “We started as mere strangers … but as we leave we’re taking more than a certificate with us. We have gained heart, compassion, diligence and so much more. … I’m proud to say I have made a friend in every single one of you.”

Watkins was also complimentary of Gillespie.

Virginia Health Services apprenticeship graduation

Virginia Health Services apprenticeship cohort valedictorian Kimberlynne Watkins and instructor Nora Gillespie.

“We can confidently say you fully prepared us to take on our roles as nursing aides. No matter what happens, we will always have your voice in our head guiding us.”

She also thanked program director Bryanna Rhodes.

Salutatorian Nicole Brown, Lawrence “Eli” Rhodes, Jasmine Smith, Sachae Simmons, Michelle Watts and Tanya Wiggins joined Watkins in receiving their certificates of completion, pins, name badges, flowers and VHS goodie bags.

They were joined by family and friends for a reception with refreshments at The Arbors, VHS’s independent living community.

Virginia Health Services Apprenticeship

The apprenticeship program is part of the Healthcare Apprenticeship Extension Program, which is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Labor.

A previous cohort graduated in April, and many are placed at facilities throughout Virginia Health Services’ network.

Three of Friday’s graduates are slated to be Nursing Aides at VHS’s James River Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center. Others are going to Northampton, York and Lancashire Convalescent and Rehabilitation centers.

“We’re excited to have you be part of our team,” Lundin told the graduates.

Virginia Health Services apprenticeship graduation

Virginia Health Services apprenticeship salutatorian Nicole Brown receives her certificate of completion and other goodies during a graduation ceremony June 4, 2021, at The Arbors at Port Warwick.

Careers with Virginia Health Services

Gillespie said the program is one of the best things VHS does.

The program provides the training and the pay, which is unusual. Gillespie said previously those interested had to take time off from other jobs to attend classes, and pay for the course. This flips the process on its head, making participating in Care Assistant training and advancement accessible to those who are interested.

It also provides employment opportunities, both during the training and as the apprentices continue through the program as Nursing Aides.

“The role of a CNA is the foundation of long-term care,” Gillespie said. “You know the residents better than anyone else. You add quality to their lives.”

Another apprenticeship class is slated to start June 21. Apprenticeship classes are ongoing throughout the year. Click here for the latest application.

VHS has a continual need for Care Assistants (CAs), Certified Nursing Aides (CNAs), Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Registered Nurses (RNs), and has positions available in all of its Peninsula locations. Visit the Careers page for details.

CFO Nikki Boldy celebrates 25 years with Virginia Health Services

It started with a part-time job while in college.

Virginia Health Services CFO Nikki Boldy worked in billing while pursuing a degree in business administration with an accounting concentration at Christopher Newport University.

The Newport News native, a graduate of Menchville High School, has lived on the Peninsula her whole life.

This year, Boldy celebrates her 25th year with Virginia Health Services.

Throughout her tenure, she has seen and been a part of the company’s growth and success.

She’s been through two technology overhauls in shifts from paper time cards to electronic ones, and the conversion to electronic medical records. She was with VHS for the acquisitions of two convalescent centers, the start up of five companies and two major changes to Medicare reimbursement.

Through it all, her reason for staying in one spot has been consistent: “The people. I work with a wonderful team.”

Several faces in the finance department have stayed the same, while it has grown to include new ones.

“If you look at the longevity of the accounting department, it speaks volumes about our team,” Boldy said.

She was promoted to Chief Financial Officer in July 2020, previously serving as the Controller.

Boldy was honored for her 25 years of service at an awards ceremony May 13, 2021, during celebrations throughout the company for National Skilled Nursing Care Week.

VHS uses the week as an opportunity to celebrate its team members with service awards and other recognitions, food and fun activities.

VHS CEO Mark Klyczek congratulates Joyce Stevens on 25 years of service.

Eight were honored during a ceremony at the corporate offices in Newport News for having five or more years of service, including Joyce Stevens, a housekeeper who has been with the company for 25 years.

Longevity in the company can be attributed to opportunities to be promoted from within, Boldy said.

She served as a biller, billing supervisor and accounting supervisor for VHS before promotions to Controller and CFO.

“I have been fortunate to be able to progress with one company,” she said. “VHS has always treated me well. I have worked my way up, and been rewarded along the way for doing good work.”

She added, “VHS wants to be able to help employees better themselves and move up, if that is what they wish to do. You see it in the longevity of members of the team.”

Boldy said she got advice along the way to help open more doors for her, including from a professor at CNU who encouraged her to add a concentration in accounting – even though she knew she didn’t want to be a public accountant – and from a former manager at VHS, who encouraged her to get a CPA license.

“I’m glad she did,” Boldy said. “I don’t know that I would have taken it upon myself to do it.”

Outside of work, she said her happy place is outdoors in the sun, preferably on a beach with a book.

VHS thanks its dedicated employees. It honored about 65 employees across its business units this week for their service of 10 or more years.

Learn more about joining our team on our Careers page.

Virginia Health Services welcomes second class of apprentices

The apprenticeship class works on patient care, including how to change linens, with instructor Nora Gillespie.

The second class of Care Assistant apprentices began classroom skills work this week at Virginia Health Services’ Employment, Enrichment and Education Center (EEE).

The six apprentices are part of the Healthcare Apprenticeship Extension Program, which is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Labor.

The apprentices spend three weeks at the EEE before moving onto clinical units and skills lab training at York Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center for two weeks.

The EEE training in Virginia Health Services’ Newport News campus is led by Nora Gillespie. Within the first two days, participants said they already are learning a lot. They learned hygiene, proper hand washing, how to properly move a patient and change bed linens, and other fundamentals of patient care.

Before the skills work in the EEE, their training focused more on non-clinical skills such as feeding and waste collection.

Completion of the five-week earn-as-you-learn training program prepares apprentices for the exam to be a Certified Nursing Aide. The program includes covering the cost of the certification exam.

The first class of Nurse Aides graduated April 22, and those six apprentices are working as Nursing Assistants at several facilities, including those within VHS, as they prepare for the certification exam.

Apprenticeship classes are ongoing throughout the year. Click here for the latest application.

VHS has a continual need for CAs, CNAs, LPNs and RNs. Visit the Careers page for details.