VHS team member supports local families at holidays

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

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

He started his holiday help program three years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to help

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

Donations can be made at:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teresa Bowen is the dietary manager at Coliseum.

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

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

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

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

Meal preparation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That can be overwhelming sometimes,” Jones says.

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

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

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

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

Healthcare food service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So does encouragement from the leadership team.

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

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

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

Senior living

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join our team

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

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

Physician Assistant with VHS loves ‘being a healer’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patient care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming a PA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VHS focuses on career development, promotion from within

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

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

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

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

AIT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drawn to senior care

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

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

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

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

Promoting from within

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

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

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

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

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

VHS is committed to workforce development and promotes from within.

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

Join our team

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

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

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

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

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

Coliseum roots run deep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal history

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EVS Week

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

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

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

100 combined years of service being celebrated at The Newport

Virginia Health Services annually recognizes our team members’ milestone service anniversaries. We have been in the community for 59 years and are proud of our team!

We value our veterans who help provide guidance and support to our newcomers and this week VHS will recognize their service with blog and social media posts to celebrate all they have done for VHS.

We have three team members celebrating 30 or more years of service at The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Michelle Smith, DON

headshot of Newport DON Michelle Smith
Michelle Smith is the Director of Nursing at The Newport. She has been with VHS for 30 years.

Michelle Smith, the Director of Nursing at The Newport, celebrates her 30th service anniversary with Virginia Health Services.

Smith started with VHS right out of high school as a CNA.

“I always knew I wanted to do nursing, so I wanted to get my feet in there to see if this is really what I liked. I was a CNA, and then I went to LPN school, and then immediately to RN school,” she said.

The Newport is one of the smaller nursing and rehabilitation centers under the Virginia Health Services umbrella. With 60 beds, Smith says the size allows the team to connect to the Residents and to the team members.

“I just love being able to talk and relate to the patients, getting to know about them and their history and their stories,” Smith said. “Getting to build that relationship with them and also then getting to see them get the therapy that they need. Many of them get better, have a positive outcome and go back home to keep on living their life. It’s just very rewarding.”

Smith says she’s always been a hands-on director of nursing.

“I don’t just sit in my office; I never have been just a paperwork DON. I want to be involved in everything that’s going on so I can help build a sense of team,” she says.

Smith developed her nursing career within VHS over the course of her tenure.

“I’ve just loved the company, the opportunity for growth, the family like atmosphere that we’ve had with our company for so many years and just being able to grow with the company and being able to do what I enjoy, which is taking care of the Residents,” she says.

Carrie Isaac, a CNA at The Newport, celebrates 30 years with Virginia Health Services.

Carrie Isaac, CNA

Carrie Isaac has worked as a CNA with VHS for 30 years at The Newport. What’s kept her in her role for this long?

“My motivation to care for people, love and take care of them … sometimes we’re the last ones they see,” she says. “The smiles on their face keeps me going.”

She is a Senior Ambassador and trains newcomers to the role.

“You have to be a people person,” Carrie says. “You have to care about people and treat them well. At the end of the day, when you leave here, know you’ve done your job well.”

Carrie says the focus on the Residents, even the smallest touch like taking care in how they are dressed and brushing their teeth, can help them have a better day.

“It’s rewarding to make them happy at the end of the day,” she says.

“They know. They know if you miss a step. When I’m off, I come back in and they say, ‘I missed you,’ and that makes me feel good. That means a lot.”

(Reposted from a June 16, 2022, blog entry.)

Curtis Sykes, EVMS

Happy 40th anniversary! Curtis Sykes started with Virginia Health Services as a nursing assistant in 1981 at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

After about 14 years, he switched gears to do custodial work at Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. He added maintenance services when he joined the team at The Newport.

“This is a good company; it’s always had my back,” he said. “I always appreciated them for that.”

He also brings other talents to the table. A singer, he has accompanied Bruce Hornsby for a performance at James River in his tenure and can be found doing a little karaoke at The Newport, particularly for the staff and Resident talent shows.

“I’m very proud to have worked for this company for this long,” he said.

Curtis Sykes performs during a Resident-Team Member talent show in April 2021.

July apprenticeship graduates employed across all seven VHS nursing and rehabilitation centers

Virginia Health Services celebrated its most recent apprenticeship graduates with a ceremony in the shade of Port Warwick’s Styron Square on Friday.

The 16 graduates (one was unable to attend Friday’s ceremony) are employed across all seven VHS nursing and rehabilitation centers, from the Peninsula to Gloucester and the Northern Neck.

They started as Temporary Nurse Aides under a short-term program developed by the government to help staff the centers. The program expired at the beginning of June and the TNAs were enrolled in Virginia Health Services’ earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship.

VHS Vice President of Nursing Rebecca Boyd addresses the graduates and their friends and family members during Friday’s ceremony.

The apprentice program trains Care Assistants to graduate to Nurse Aides, and it covers the cost of the certification exam to be a CNA. VHS is proud to have developed this class to be CNAs in its facilities.

The class was instructed by VHS Director of Education Princess Henderson at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and Nora Gillespie at the Education Center.

They proudly presented each graduate with a certificate of course completion, and Vice President of Nursing Rebecca Boyd gave each grad their new ID badge. The students had a condensed version of the apprenticeship, balancing time on the floor with 14 days of classroom work that included tests and perfecting 22 skills.

The graduates

The class of 16 was driven, committed to learning, and passionate and professional about the work. Henderson and Gillespie piled on the praise of the graduates so their friends and family members in attendance understood just how hard they worked to get to graduation day.

James River graduates: Tatyana Beale (salutatorian), Deaundra Eley, Clare Kingsley, Audra Lewis (valedictorian), Ashlee Newsome, Danyell Robinson and Jayda Taliaferro.

Education Center: Kayla Bromley, Miranda Frank (salutatorian), Shawntez Hill, Tyler Lowery, Alexis Panzer, Sarah Sulik (valedictorian), Shynerria Walker, Shakina White and Noel Williamson.

Valedictorians

James River valedictorian Audra Lewis with instructor Princess Henderson.

James River class valedictorian Audra Lewis addressed her classmates and audience with a short speech thanking Henderson and Gillespie and complimenting her peers.

“Today we acknowledge the hard work and show our instructors, our family and ourselves that we are ready to enter into the next phase of our careers and academic lives. …

“We can celebrate this accomplishment as one. … Not a single one of us did it alone. We came together cohesively and were guided and encouraged by our wonderful instructors and mentors. … I look forward to what the future holds for each of us.”

Education Center valedictorian Sarah Sulik with instructor Nora Gillespie.

The valedictorian from the Education Center, Sarah Sulik, presented a letter read by Gillespie.

“It was an honor to get to know each of you over the course of this class,” the letter read. “Our success was a collaborative effort of not only to ourselves, but our brilliant teacher Ms. Nora. …

“When I started this class, I didn’t realize the potential I had, but the gracious Ms. Nora helped me realize I can achieve anything I put my mind to. I still have progress to make, but what I have learned in this course is something I will take with me for the rest of my life.”

Valedictorian Sarah Sulik hugs instructor Nora Gillespie during Friday’s ceremony.

Next class

Our next earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship class begins in August. All the slots are taken, but interested applicants can apply for the September class starting Aug. 15 at vahs.com/careers. Look for the Care Assistant job description.

The class begins Sept. 19 and will include five weeks of classroom and on-the-floor instruction.

Northampton dietary manager, 76, says it’s time to relax, but just a bit

After 46 years with Virginia Health Services, Mary Jones is ready to relax.

But just a little bit, she says. Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center’s dietary manager, who will be 77 in December, is going to stick to cooking for “her babies” three days a week.

“I call them my babies,” she says of the Residents. She loves cooking for them and watching them and eat and enjoy her meals.

“I enjoy cooking. I enjoy what I do. I love what I do,” she says.

Mary Jones stands outside the front door of Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
Mary Jones, the dietary manager at Northampton, is semi-retiring. She’ll work three days a week after being “married” to VHS.

She’s introduced them to turkey wings, which she says they can’t get enough of. And she enjoys cooking hot dogs and more for cookouts every holiday.

Ms. Jones says she comes from a large family, so cooking for a group isn’t an issue.

“I married Virginia Health Services, I know that,” she says with a laugh.

This was her first job. She says she can count on one hand in 46 years that she’s called out, sometimes not being in for vacation or the death of a loved one.

“I just want to relax a little bit,” she says of semi-retiring. “… Just let me come in and do my little cooking and go home.”

She says she debated stepping away with God before making the decision. What she didn’t want to do was sit idly at home. They decided three days a week was manageable.

“And I ain’t babysitting,” she says of her family’s children, with a smile. “I send them home when they ask to spend the night.”

VHS Residents benefit from pet therapy by Therapy Dogs International volunteers

He has a business card with his picture on it. He carries around individual’s stories about their lives, what they’ve witnessed and what they think. And he wears a tie.

Trey is a 7-year-old Pomeranian with Therapy Dogs International.

Meet Trey, a 7-year-old Pomeranian who works with owner and handler Jean Nohle, the Peninsula chapter director of Therapy Dogs International.

There are 39 dogs and 32 handlers in the Peninsula chapter, which runs from Williamsburg to Hampton and Gloucester and all points in between. They also assist with events Southside, such as after the mass shooting in Virginia Beach in 2019.

The dogs and their handlers visit Residents at Virginia Health Services’ assisted living communities and nursing and rehabilitation centers. Each visit sparks a smile from the Residents and Team Members who look forward to seeing them each week.

“It’s rewarding work for us, for the employees, for the volunteers and for the dogs,” Jean says. “It’s a win-win situation all around.”

What is Therapy Dogs International?

Therapy Dogs International (TDI) is a volunteer organization. The primary purpose of its dogs and handlers is to “provide comfort and companionship by sharing the dog with patients in hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions and wherever else the therapy dog is needed.”

Jean says the dogs will go wherever they are needed to provide comfort.

Not all dogs are meant to be in TDI, and not all situations are meant for all dogs.

“We never force our dogs to anybody,” Jean says. “You’ve got to read your dog.”

Benefits of pet therapy

Studies have shown pet-assisted therapy benefits individuals.

“It’s been proven the dogs reduce blood pressure, heart rate, improve frame of mind,” Jean says. “They work with people who have had strokes, and the (dogs) can help (individuals) relearn movements to pet the dog or walk to a dog.”

Jean said the organization gets a lot of requests for visits to first responders, such as clinical staffs, firefighters, police officers and EMTs.

Jeff is a volunteer with Therapy Dogs International. His mother is a Resident at The Hamilton Assisted Living. He brings Auggie over frequently to visit with Residents and Team Members at The Hamilton and York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. He also makes visits to other nursing homes, including those within the VHS family, as called on.

He says it’s a great program. He and Auggie have been with the program for a few months.

TDI in VHS communities

Dogs and handlers keep to a schedule with Virginia Health Services’ communities, including The Hamilton and The Huntington Assisted Living, and Coliseum, James River, The Newport and York Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers.

Jean Nohle and Trey are volunteers with the Peninsula chapter of Therapy Dogs International.

“You’re making a commitment; those people look for you,” Jean says of the schedule. “For some, these dogs are their family.”

Team Members also keep an eye out for their four-legged visitors.

“They look for them, they need them,” Jean says. Trey, for example, has two nurses he races to every time he sees them at The Newport.

“We’ve been with some of our patients for a long, long time,” Jean says. Dogs and handlers have been to funerals, both to offer support to surviving family members and to help provide closure to the dogs.

“They know,” she says when someone they developed a relationship with passes. In addition to nursing homes, TDI also does work with individuals in hospice care.

Background story

Jean has been with TDI for 19 years.

“My mother had stroke and was in nursing home for four years,” she says. “I saw the volunteers, what they did for the Residents, and said, ‘I’m going to pay this back.’”

Leading the TDI chapter here is how she says she does that. She is a licensed evaluator for the dog and handler training and coordinates extreme situation training with members of the community.

She also is a trainer at Perfect Paws Pet Training.

We celebrate our VHS Residents during National Skilled Nursing Care Week

It’s National Skilled Nursing Care Week (May 8-14)! We are spotlighting some of our VHS Residents at Virginia Health Services’ seven nursing and rehabilitation centers. Our team supports our Residents in living their best life as they age with us.

We appreciate their time and the time of their visiting families and friends who all were so open in telling their stories.

Coliseum Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

Man about town

Curtis Cofield is a man about town —or at least about Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The Newport News native uses his motorized chair to visit Residents and team members throughout the center in Hampton.

“I know everybody in here. Every day I can get out of bed, I make my rounds,” he says.

Curtis is a Vietnam War veteran and former bricklayer. He entered Coliseum about three years ago. He had a heart transplant following a massive heart attack in 2003.

Coliseum Resident Curtis Cofield

“I ain’t stressing. (Not since then.) Not going to worry about it; the next time might kill me,” he says of staying calm and maintaining a routine at Coliseum.

Not only does he know the Residents and team members at Coliseum, he used to be married to a current Resident.

“My ex-wife is here too,” he says. “We’re friends. … We get along better now than when we were married!”

Curtis has a sister and one son who live nearby and visit. His other four children are “spread out across the country.”

He graduated from Phenix High School in Hampton, and lived in Hampton and Newport News most of his life. He worked as part of a bricklayer union for 29 years, “anywhere I could work.”

His father was a bricklayer and owned a business.

“The guys there taught me how to do it,” he said. “I enjoyed the work. It was a lot of fun.”

He has lost both legs by amputation since coming to Coliseum because of vascular and other issues. But being able to chat up folks around Coliseum helps him pass the day.

“I learned how to deal with it by keeping myself busy; keeping going,” he says.

Brave lady’

She sits quietly near the same spot in the Coliseum dining room. She doesn’t like to miss the activities.

Isabel Santiago has been at Coliseum since June 2021. It’s closer to her daughter Mivia (Mimi), who visits her almost every day before going to work in the evenings. Isabel transferred there from VHS-owned Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center following rehab from a stroke. She lived with Mimi for five years before that.

“They’re keeping me busy,” Isabel says. “I do whatever they have.”

Coliseum Resident Isabel Santiago and her daughter, Mimi.

She originally is from Ponce, Puerto Rico. She first came to the U.S. when she was 14 years old in search of work to help support her family at home.

“This brave lady went to New York City at 14 by herself,” her daughter says proudly. “A cab driver checked to make sure the apartment she was going to was safe before letting her out of the cab.”

Isabel is the mother of eight. She has numerous grandchildren, and great- and great-great grandchildren.

She and her husband met while they lived in New York City. They were childhood sweethearts and were married for 52 years before her husband passed away from cancer in 2013.

“The neighborhood raises family,” Mimi said of growing up in the Bronx where everyone looked out for everyone else’s kids.

Isabel got her GED so she wouldn’t have to quit her jobs to go to school. She traveled between family in Puerto Rico and NYC. She was a social worker in New York City and helped mediate gang relations in schools.

“I enjoy relating to people,” she says.

Isabel also moved to where her children were, spending time in Texas and Florida before moving to Virginia to be closer to Mimi.

“I have friends in a lot of places,” she said, adding she really liked Texas.

She was a receptionist at a hospital in Texas, and in other health clinics. She retired at age 72.

Isabel says she is enjoying her time at Coliseum, and really likes the staff and the activity programs. She and her daughter are happy with the rehabilitation services.

“She’s doing really good here,” Mimi says.

James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Centenarian

Katherine Gatewood has been at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center “a long, long time,” she says, smiling. She can’t recall the date, but estimates it was around 2005.

She will be 100 years old on May 14, which she greets with a shrug.

A collage of photos from Katherine Gatewood’s life hangs in her room at James River

“If I were able to go out, be more active, I’d enjoy (turning 100) more,” she says.

Katherine says she is hopes her family is able to visit for the milestone.

She was joined for our interview by her therapist Mavis, who says they do “talk therapy.”

They have been working together for about a year and a half, Mavis said.

Katherine says she was born and raised in Newport News, and a bit of a homebody in that she didn’t travel much. But she did have an active social life, she says.

She worked as a telephone operator and bookkeeper—“nothing to brag about,” she says with a shrug — and says her greatest accomplishment was raising her children.

“Raising children was the most fun, watching them grow and mature,” she says.

One son and his family live in Wilmington, N.C., and another is in Virginia Beach. He comes to visit weekly and does her laundry. Both sons call every day.

Katherine Gatewood turns 100 on May 14.

They help keep her abreast of the family, which includes one grandson and two great-granddaughters who are in college and have studied abroad in France and Italy.

Her room at James River is homey, with lots of family photos on the walls. Her sons “made the room feel like home. Guess they figured I’d be here a while,” she says with a chuckle.

Katherine’s father was a college professor and her mother stayed home to raise her. She was an only child.

Her family was the first to have a refrigerator on their block and the neighbors would come by to look at it, she says.

While she can’t recall how long she was married, she was widowed young. Her husband died at age 53. She never remarried because she says, “he was my soulmate. He was a good man.”

She developed many friendships over the years, including several friends from St. Vincent’s Catholic Church. They keep in touch now more by phone because of various health issues — “I might be in the best shape of all them,” she says.

Kind word for all

Sandra Jordan has been at James River for 12 years. She recently lost her only son, and there’s little family remaining.

James River Resident Sandra Jordan.

The team at James River “look out for me and help me,” she says. She uses a wheelchair.

Sandra was from New York, and moved to the area first to attend Hampton University. In her first year, she met and married her husband.

“I just stayed after that,” she says.

They divorced when their son turned 18, she says, but remained friends.

“I’ve been single ever since.”

She worked as a kitchen supervisor at Sentara for 15 years and Riverside for 10 years, so “I’m particular about the food,” she says.

Sandra believes in giving a kind word to all. She tries to help her roommate when she can.

She enjoys the daily activity programs. Sandra says she enjoys bingo and the live music the most.

“It’s one day at a time,” she says.

Lancashire Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

‘The therapists are wonderful’

Aldrema McMillan has her sights set on the future—when she can leave Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center fully or partially recovered. And she knows the care she is receiving at Lancashire will get her there.

“I appreciate the therapists here,” she says. “They really worked with me to recover. Whether it’s a partial or complete recovery, I’m (hopefully) going home.”

Lancashire Resident Aldrema McMillan

Aldrema is recovering from a fall in which she injured her neck. She moved into Lancashire in August 2021, and hopes by this August, she will move home.

“I do like it here,” she says. She has a private room and enjoys the activities programs. She also likes having a bird feeder out of her window.

“The therapists are wonderful,” she says. Aldrema is working with occupational and physical therapists in her recovery.

She is originally from Lancaster County. While she has detoured to New York City, northern Virginia and the Peninsula, she returned to her home county for her rehab.

Aldrema left for NYC after high school.

“The journey to New York is the ultimate challenge,” she said. “If you can live there, you can live anywhere.”

It was there she met her husband, who worked for TWA and then American Airlines at airports in the Mid-Atlantic. They lived on Long Island, and she took the train into Manhattan for her job as an underwriter for New York Life Insurance.

They married in 1972 and had four children.

Her husband, who passed away in 2009, worked at JFK for 20 years before being transferred to various other airports. When she moved to the Peninsula, he remained in northern Virginia most of the time because of his work schedule.

She has seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, most of whom live on the Peninsula and come to visit.

“All a nice bunch. I enjoy them,” she says of her family.

Aldrema enjoyed the prom at Lancashire on May 3, 2022.

She worked as a dispatcher for the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Department, earning awards and recognition. She retired in 2013.

“I was trying to enjoy (retirement) gracefully,” she says, until her fall. “Everything is coming back except the walking.”

Aldrema continues to work with the rehab team at Lancashire on her recovery. She’s an advocate for herself and other Residents, never hesitating to speak up.

“No sense in keeping quiet,” she says with a smile.

Colorful relaxation

Mildred Clark has called Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center home for the past six years. She knows she needs the extra care the team provides, and it allows her to be close to her daughter.

“I like here,” she says. “I’ve been satisfied.”

You can usually find her coloring in her room. The pages are intricate, full of detail, and Mildred’s hand moves steadily inside the lines with fine-point colored pencils.

Lancashire Resident Mildred Clark.

Before she moved to Lancashire, she said she hadn’t colored since she was a little girl. Her daughter gave her a book and she took off from there. She gives away many of her pages to family and others. Some are framed and displayed in her room.

“It’s really relaxing,” she says. “Takes your mind off of everything.”

It also, along with medication, helped her keep control in her hands from the Parkinson’s disease. She also has COPD and uses oxygen regularly.

Her coloring group at Lancashire doesn’t meet as often as it used to since the pandemic, when movement was more restricted to stop the spread of the virus. But she does get more visitors, including a 3-year-old great-granddaughter she met in person for the first time recently.

“She took right to me,” Mildred says, patting the chair, “and came right up here to color with me.”

Mildred lived in Richmond and has three children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her oldest daughter lives in Lancaster County.

Mildred likes coloring detailed pictures, and finds it relaxing. “Takes your mind off everything,” she says.

She worked for a printing company in Richmond.

“It was hard work,” she says, “It’s physically hard on your body.”

After 14 years there, she retired at age 62 when social security kicked in. She moved in with her oldest daughter about 10 years ago following her divorce, then lived independently until she was in and out of the hospital too often.

“I’ve never lived outside Virginia,” Mildred says. “… I’m not a traveling woman, I don’t think.”

Northampton Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

From Civil Service to model

Marie Collins sits tall in her wheelchair, comfortable dressed with long necklaces and earrings.

She’s proud of her independence, like getting herself out of bed, showered and dressed, and making the bed to start her day at Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Marie will be 98 in August, and her goal is to use the walker to get to her door without needing her therapist to follow behind her with her wheelchair should her legs give out.

Northampton Resident Marie Collins.

She has been a Resident at Northampton since February 2020, and moved from the skilled unit to a single room last August. She’s comfortable, happy with the team members and rehab therapists, and pleased to not have to worry about grocery shopping, cooking or cleaning her space (though she does keep it tidy and dusts).

“I’m an active Resident,” she says. “I love it here. I like the nurses. What more could we want?”

She has even acquiesced to play Bingo, which she says she didn’t enjoy before coming to Northampton.

Marie says it’s been difficult to outlive her friends. But, “here is where my life is now. But I just have acquaintances.”

She spent nearly 45 years of her life as a secretary, and then another 20 as a senior model in several campaigns and with community fashion shows. She spent much of her career in the U.S. Civil Service, retiring in 1986.

Her husband Jim was transferred to Ramstein Air Base in Germany after they met in Texas. She eventually traveled there and they were wed in Germany in 1956. Eventually, he was transferred back to Texas.

She tried to find a job, but was turned away because “you’re an Air Force wife. As soon as I train you, you’ll have to leave. So, I showed them. I joined the Civil Service.”

They were transferred to Hampton, and she took a job at Langley Air Force Base. The couple spent two years in Istanbul, Turkey.

“I loved it, but my husband didn’t. He was in JAG, working with the local police,” she says.

They returned stateside in 1968. Jim had two heart attacks. He was discharged from the Air Force, and the couple returned to Virginia.

Even after he passed in 1970, Marie stayed in Hampton. She spent the last 18 years of her Civil Service career at Langley.

“I never went back to Pennsylvania,” she says.

When her parents passed, she sold her half of the family farm in Hesston, Pennsylvania, back to her sister. Marie’s nephew and his wife live there now, and visit about once a month when she goes to the doctor. They’re her remaining living family.

“If you’re going to live here, you’re going to make the most of it.”

Northampton Resident Marie Collins

In 1994, she sold the Hampton house. She moved into an apartment, and then to smaller apartment on the first floor in 2012.

Through her involvement with the NARFE, she became president of the local chapter, which at one point had nearly 1,000 members (“there’s a lot of retired federal workers here.”)

Her right knee started giving her trouble at 95. “Mother Nature decided it was time to slow me down.”

She wasn’t interested in getting a knee replacement at that age. After a bout with COVID, she moved into Northampton. It’s home now.

“If you’re going to live here, you’re going to make the most of it,” she said of decorating her single room as comfortable as possible.

The Newport Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

Go Hokies!

Hampton “Vince” Snidow, 82, has been a Resident of The Newport for about four years. His health prevents him from moving or speaking very much some days, but you can tell by the smile on his face when he hears his wife, Nancy, speak, he’s engaged.

Vince and Nancy married July 21, 1979, and she is still by his side daily. She visits twice a day at meal times, living nearby around Christopher Newport University.

Nancy and Vince Snidow have lived in Newport News most of their lives.

The Snidows have been “community oriented all these years,” actively participating in their churches (North Riverside Baptist and Hidenwood Presbyterian), and with organizations such as Salvation Army, Virginia Living Museum, Peninsula Rescue Mission and Menchville House.

Vince Snidow came to the area after spending three years in the Army, and then the reserves. He worked at the Newport News shipyard for 50 years as a mechanical engineer, retiring in 2011. He worked on several projects, including submarines and aircraft carriers, but also liked working on the commercial projects.

Nancy says they attended several christenings, happily remembering meeting Susan Ford during the keel laying for the carrier named after her father.

The christenings were always “very exciting,” Nancy says, “and it was just funny when they couldn’t break the bottle.”

Vince is originally from Kentucky, and has a sister named Virginia (though she lives in Kentucky). He is a Hokie through and through, sporting a Virginia Tech jersey during a recent visit. He was in the Corps at the school, and remains close friends with fellow VT Corps members.

“He keeps the postal service in business,” Nancy says of his room full of cards and tokens from friends and family, and the children from church.

Church friends and his friends from the Army and VT Corps visit when they can, Nancy says.

“Church friends have been supportive of us and kept us going,” she says.

When Nancy visits, she says she tries to stimulate Vince by playing music.

“He still remembers … he likes John Denver, Elvis, classical, bluegrass, hymns,” she says, sorting through a drawer next to his bed of CDs he’s been sent from friends.

“He keeps the postal service in business,” Nancy Snidow says of her husband Vince’s room of cards at The Newport.

Nancy says she and Vince love the outdoors, and they walked the Noland Trail regularly when he was well enough and volunteered to clear it on Earth Day each year.

Their charity work is focused on helping children “improve their lives,” Nancy says. Vince has a rare blood type and he donated his blood, which was used in research to help premature children and cancer patients.

“A lot of children are probably living today who wouldn’t be if it weren’t for those donations,” she says. His gift to immunodeficient patients was outlined in a Daily Press article in 2003.

The Snidows enjoyed traveling, visiting the provinces of Canada and several National Parks, including Yellowstone and Yosemite.

Vince also is a big baseball fan, and roots for the Reds. They traveled to see games in as many stadiums as possible, Nancy says, including Fenway Park in Boston.

“It was exciting to see the Green Monster.”

After his retirement, Vince started to show signs of Parkinson’s, which prevented the Snidows from traveling as much as they thought they would.

The team at The Newport has become family to the Snidows, Nancy says.

Walter Reed Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

Garden caretaker

You can tell he’s spent a majority of his time outdoors by his weathered hands and ballcap.

A former farmer and volunteer firefighter from Deltaville in Middlesex County, Carl Vaughan tends to the courtyard at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center almost daily.

Carl Vaughan tends to a garden in the courtyard of Walter Reed every day the weather cooperates.

“I do it to get outside. I’ve always been an outdoors guy,” he says.

Carl plans his garden at Walter Reed with the help of activity director Julie Boothe. They look over catalogs and she orders his seeds and supplies. The community also provides donations for the courtyard garden.

He started keeping up with the Walter Reed garden around the time of the pandemic in mid-2020.  The Master Gardeners of Gloucester weren’t able to come when visitation was closed, and Carl assumed the caretaking role.

He told Julie, though, “I’m planting vegetables, not flowers.”

Carl also takes care of the plants in the greenhouse.

There are still flowers in the courtyard, but there are lots of other plants as well. Carl has planted peas, patio corn, radishes, cucumbers, lettuces, green peppers, three varieties of squash, and five types of tomatoes.

Why so many? He really enjoys a good tomato sandwich.

Carl rakes the courtyard, waters and manages the greenhouse.

He also lays net over the corn to keep the crows and other birds away.

Carl and Julie plan to experiment with other lettuces in the fall, such as kale.

York Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

Soprano & Mathematician

Virginia Wilkinson was a mathematician and a singer. She reads and does crossword puzzles daily. And she’s 105 years old.

Virginia Wilkinson is originally from Portsmouth. She’s called a lot of places home, including York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She enjoys talking with activity director Mary Garrity and appreciates the nursing staff.

York Resident Virginia Wilkinson.

“I don’t have to shop for groceries or cook here. What’s not to like?” she says.

Virginia recalls her youth fondly.

“I had a very happy childhood,” she says. “People always say only children are spoiled, but my parents taught me how to share.”

Her father lost his business during the Great Depression, which she said ended her chance to go to college.

Instead, Virginia worked for NACA —“that’s N.A.C.A., before it was NASA, N.A.S.A.,” she explains —in Hampton and did long division.

“I’ve never done long division like that again,” she said.

She was the lead soprano at Episcopal Church in Portsmouth for eight years.

Virginia was married for 62 years, and her husband worked for Seaboard Air Line Railroad in Norfolk. They were transferred to Richmond, which is where she mostly raised her son.

There are three grandsons, five great-grandsons, and two great-granddaughters. The family is far-flung to places including Norway and Texas, though her son at age 75 lives in Gloucester, within driving distance of York.

She says she enjoyed living in Richmond very much, especially the parties and other railway gatherings she attended with her husband.

“I had a wonderful time meeting all those people,” she says. “I’m a people person … I like to be with people.”

Virginia also enjoyed traveling. Following one business trip, she says her husband came home from a business trip and said, “I’m buying a new car, and you and I are going cross country.”

They traveled to the Pacific Northwest, and from the far-away look in her eye, it’s clear she enjoyed the trip. “It was a wonderful time, just wonderful.”

She reads as much as she can, currently starting a compilation of stories from Jan Karon.

Virginia was paired with roommate Joyce Tracy, who Mary refers to as a “social butterfly.”

‘Social butterfly’

Joyce Tracy is 87 years old, and says she’s had two strokes, which prompted her move to York. But she’s very comfortable getting around in her wheelchair, and visiting various team members and fellow Residents.

“I just do silly things,” she says. “I try to put a smile on peoples’ faces.

Joyce Tracy spent 37 years working for NASA Langley. Now the “Bull Island Girl” flits around York making friends smile.

“I go down the hall and everyone knows my name. … I’ve decided life is too short to worry about being silly.”

Joyce spent 37 years working for NASA Langley in Hampton. She worked in the special documents department of the technical library. Her eyes sparkle a little as she remembers how she needed security clearance to deal with the documents in her care.

She also was a florist, and was able to travel many times while with FTD. She worked there “on and off, between having children.”

Joyce has two daughters who she says help take care of her and four grandchildren.

She is “a Bull Island girl,” from Poquoson.

Her husband was enlisted in the military after high school — “it was the only two years I didn’t live on the Peninsula” — before they returned and he worked in design at the Newport News shipyard.

Joyce retired in 2002. “I’m very fortunate to be as well as I am,” she says.

“This is nice,” she says of York. Her daughters also refer friends and family members looking for a nursing home to York. It’s clean, a great team. The best company (hand gesturing all around).

Virginia is the “perfect” roommate.

“I love everybody,” Joyce said. “Have good fun, that’s what life should be”