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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 Ohio). 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.
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 providences of Canada and several National Parks, including Yellowstone and Yosemite.
Vince also is a big baseball fan, and roots for 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
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
“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”
Virginia Health Services is shining a light on our team members. We want to spotlight the roles our team members play to support individuals to live their best life and showcase the VHS culture. With National Nurses Day on Friday, we are highlighting James River’s Director of Nursing Peggy Evans, who has been a part of the Virginia Health Services family since the 1980s.
There is something about Virginia Health Services that keeps Peggy Evans coming back.
The elderly always has been her passion. She watched her grandparents get older, and says she wanted to make a difference after seeing her grandfather die from leukemia.
“I tried getting out of (working with elderly) a couple of times,” she says with a smile, “but it didn’t work. I wound up right back here.”
Evans left VHS the first time because her child arrived two months ahead of schedule. When she went back to work, it was with the VA as a charge nurse for spinal cord injuries. She worked with a doctor at TPMG and finished RN school.
That’s when she returned to nursing center care. She then became a trainer and after completing a computer course at CNU was traveling often. At some point, the travel between the tunnels became too much.
“I accepted for the third time with VHS and have been here ever since,” she said.
It’s the Residents and the staff who have kept her with Virginia Health Services, she said.
Evans was a trainer on the VHS education team, overseeing York, Gloucester and Lancashire. When the drive became too much — “I no longer have to fill up every week” — she returned as DON at James River in February 2021.
It was a difficult time for her. She had just lost her mother and had two other close deaths over the course of two years. Now her commute is six minutes from her home.
“I like what I do,” she said. “I’m a people person. I enjoy the families and the Residents.”
She was resistant to being a RN — “I wanted hands on,” she said.
While the DON role is more paperwork than people some days, she says she can sneak in a cigarette occasionally with Residents. And she dances “when my bones, when my joints will let me.
“I like being involved and seeing a smile on their face.”
Words of wisdom
Evans has a lot of advice for new hires to her nursing team. And she says she faces them all with an open-door policy — “let’s talk through a problem or an issue.”
“I check on new hires at least once daily,” she says. “I like being out there (on the floor).”
Her best advice for a new hire: “Do what you’re supposed to do the right way, every day. … Then you don’t have to worry about how to do it the right way.”
She also suggests being receptive to constructive criticism.
And she recommends the nursing staff listen to the CNAs.
“They know the Residents best,” she said.
Some of the CNAs at James River have been there for 30 years. Some nurses too. Sometimes it takes time to get a seasoned employee on the same page as a new hire. Evans recommends patience.
“We admit families, too,” she said. “We all become a team and work together to help the Resident.
“A happy staff makes happy care.”
Virginia Health Services is Resident and employee oriented, she said.
What’s made Evans return to VHS time after time?
“VHS is family. I have been very well taken care of by VHS in my tenure here, even with all the hardships and deaths in my family,” she says.
And she leaves this nugget of wisdom, which is universally applicable: “I feel like change is good because it opens up another rainbow. It gets you going in another direction.”
Join the team
Virginia Health Services is hiring nurses, including several positions at James River. Want to work with Peggy? Apply for the ADON position, or as a CNA, LPN or RN. Visit vahs.com/careers for a complete list of job opportunities at James River and with VHS.
Sometimes you find exactly what you’re looking for in a career, even later in life.
For Christine Brooks, an LPN at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, taking ownership in the care of the Residents on the Abingdon Memory Care unit made her realize even after 30 years in long-term care, you can grow into a different role.
“I never thought I’d be a charge nurse. I thought I’d be a floor nurse for the rest of my life, and I was cool with it,” she said. “After working in Memory Care, working with (the Residents) consistently and really getting to know them, and (the Walter Reed team) giving me the opportunity to do what I’ve been able to do here … I’m not going anywhere.”
When Abingdon opened, Brooks said she asked Walter Reed Director of Nursing Lana Ketch to be a part of it.
“I love Memory Care,” Brooks said. “I don’t know why.”
But she does. It’s clear in every sentence when she talks about the Residents.
Much of Brooks’ family has passed away, except for her children and brother. She says the Residents are her family.
“I just want the unit to feel like family,” she said.
It extends from the Residents and their families to the staff on the unit.
“We’re all in this together. We have to make the best of it, make it work. This is their home,” Brooks said.
Encouraging family to visit can sometimes be a challenge because it’s discouraging the Resident doesn’t remember who they are or that they visited.
“Just being there will make them happy even if they don’t quite know who you are,” she said. “You see that glimmer, even if it’s just for a second.”
What is Memory Care?
Residents live on secured Memory Care units to prevent wandering. They are memory-impaired, including having dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The units have private dining and relaxation areas. Abingdon also has a Snoozelen Room, which can be used for sensory therapy such as mood lighting and aroma therapy.
Walter Reed is recruiting team members for its Memory Care units, which have occupancy for up to 51 Residents. There is a need for nursing staff, among other positions.
What it takes
Consistency in staffing is key for Residents on the Memory Care unit.
“When I have regular staff who knows the team and knows the Residents, you build rapport with them,” Brooks said.
Knowing what to expect on the unit goes a long way. Being flexible and having patience are necessary.
“Knowing the process, what calms them, it helps avoid agitating a Resident,” she said.
“To me, it’s not complicated. It’s more common sense. … A lot of memory care is being flexible and being able to ad lib and roll with it. … You are not going to retrain them to do something. You have to redirect them.”
During meals, Brooks plays music to help calm and focus the Residents while they eat.
“They eat so much better,” she said.
She goes through a list of questions when there is a new admission, asking family members what the Resident likes, what are their behaviors and triggers, what types of music they enjoy and what they did in their lives.
“Anything they can think of that can benefit their mom or their dad to communicate with us,” she said.
“You can have somebody having a bad day, put on some music and they can snap out of it.”
There are about 15 Residents on Abingdon right now. A few are more active than others, but it’s a “very good mix. You can see them build relationships with each other,” Brooks said. They sit on the couch in the common area and chat and laugh.
Knowing what types of sensory redirection a Resident needs can settle them.
“I’m not a huggy person, but you can look at person and know they need that comfort,” Brooks said of hugging others or acting like a goofball if it helps a Resident.
“If you truly want to make a difference, if you truly want to do something … Make their lives better. Ask, ‘what can I do?’,” Brooks said.
“I’ve got plans for this place,” Brooks said.
She’s pitching several ideas to help Residents “be as independent as possible.” That includes a walking club to help settle some of the more restless Residents. Brooks walks with one Resident regularly and it helps settle him, Assistant Administrator Nicole Beck said.
To execute ideas, Brooks knows she has the support of her leadership and team. Hudgins, Beck, Ketch and others are receptive to ideas that help the Residents live their best life.
“I’ve got some awesome staff,” she said. “We couldn’t do what we are doing without the support of Walter Reed team. … We want families to be comfortable when they come in.”
She said she may over-communicate with family, but it ensures families know what is happening with their loved ones.
“The family’s biggest fear is you’re hiding something from them,” she said.
Brooks says she is going to see her plans through.
“I would never want to do anything else. I don’t see myself ever not being a part of this. … I have no intentions of spreading my wings anywhere other than here.”
Virginia Health Services offers assistance in pursuing nursing education, and full- and part-time positions are eligible for benefits including health and dental insurance, and paid leave. VHS also offers a 401K retirement plan to eligible employees.
Virginia Health Services is rolling out a natural supplement program to help enhance Residents’ diets and get away from using commercial supplements by replacing them with more natural ingredients.
The program launched Wednesday at The Arbors Independent Living with a smoothie demonstration from Chef Akira Johnston and a presentation by VHS Director of Dining and Nutrition Viki Reynolds.
The Arbors Residents enjoyed the fruit smoothie of peach, pineapple, mango and fruit juices. As the program amps up, other ingredients, such as leafy greens, berries and protein will be added to the smoothies further enhance nutritional benefits, Reynolds said.
The program also may include other natural snacks such as a yogurt bar or nutritional cookies because “you probably don’t want a smoothie every day,” Reynolds said.
Any time you use real food over something processed you end up getting more nutritional benefits, she added.
The program is starting at VHS’s independent living community before it’s rollout in its assisted living communities and nursing and rehabilitation centers. Eventually, it may be incorporated into individual care plans to replace commercial supplements.
Residents who are at higher risk, not eating well or losing weight will most benefit from the program. The natural ingredients will be high in nutritional benefits, Reynolds said, and the snack program will be served in between meals.
Reynolds, a registered dietician, laid out the key ingredients to a healthy smoothie. It should be a balance of about three ingredients that have varying nutritional benefits. Fruits, berries and a dark leafy green help add fiber, vitamin K, sweetness and antioxidants.
You also should include a source of protein, such as powdered milk, nut or dairy milk, peanut butter or yogurt. Smoothies at long-term care centers would include proteins, she said.
“I’ve seen it work”
Reynolds has worked in other facilities, including Memory Care centers. She said she has seen the natural supplement program work. It’s a good way to get nutrition into Residents who struggle to focus on eating full meals.
The healthy snack program will be incorporated into the daily activity program and the social aspect of the program helps bring Residents out of their rooms.
During the inaugural smoothie rollout, the Residents at The Arbors were asked to select and vote on a name. They were really engaged in the process, so stay tuned for our officially named healthy supplement snack program. Choices included: VHS (Vital, Healthy, Snack burst), VHS Gold Burst, VHS Bright Blends and VHS Flavor Favor. Residents also were encouraged to write-in their own.
The American College of Health Care Administrators (ACHCA) established the week to recognize the “key players in the care team.” Administrators “are entrusted with the responsibility of managing the care of our loved ones. They touch the lives of residents and families, and, most importantly, ensure that their staff provides the highest level of quality care to a vulnerable population.”
Virginia Health Services celebrates our Administrators at our nursing and rehabilitation centers! They dedicate their time and attention to their Residents and team members. They multi-task and do whatever they can to make their centers feel like home, all while providing leadership and support to their entire team.
Please join us in thanking our long-term care Administrators and Assistant Administrators and get to know them in their Q&As below.
Coliseum Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
Dudley Haas, Administrator
Years with Virginia Health Services: 9 years.
What drew you to a career in long-term care? I started as a QA (Quality Assurance) nurse for the hours and ended up in the Administrator-in-Training program.
How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? Every day is different.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? Some of the issues and concerns that we deal with daily.
What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? Quilting.
Haley Holland was promoted to Assistant Administrator last week. She served as Activity Director as Coliseum prior to her promotion.
James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Stephen Berczek, Assistant Administrator
Years with Virginia Health Services: About 3.
What drew you to a career in long-term care? Started out in physical therapy as a tech for VHS and then branched off into the administrative roles.
How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? Rewarding, challenging, fast-paced.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The extensive workload.
What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? Snowboarding, riding motorcycles, traveling and golfing.
What drew you to a career in long-term care? In life, people close to me struggled with early onset dementia including my mom and my grandpa. It was important to me to have a career that would allow me to assist in providing support for residents as well as their families. Creating an environment that assists individuals to live their later years with happiness and dignity celebrating who they were as well as who they are now.
How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? So incredibly rewarding!
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? I think people would be surprised at how much fun we have. There are components that are very difficult but we find ways to laugh every single day.
What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? I am a photographer.
Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Nikki Clements is coming up on a year as Administrator. This is her second turn with Virginia Health Services. She says her true passion is serving the Residents and staff in our long-term care communities and believes that to be successful is understanding that “what you do is far greater than what you say” from Stephen Covey. In her spare time, Nikki enjoys traveling and spending time on the water with her family and their rainbow of rescued labs.
Erin Mathis is the Assistant Administrator. She wore many hats in several roles at Northampton prior to her promotion.
Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Bryant Hudgins, Administrator
Years with Virginia Health Services: 25 years.
What drew you to a career in long-term care? I was drawn to long-term care because I enjoy helping people and I’ve felt that at times our older, wiser community has been underserved and sometimes forgotten.
How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? Rewarding, fast-paced, unique.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The ever-changing needs of each day. There is not much of a constant. The job and its duties evolve daily.
On a different note, it can be surprising to others how upbeat and active our Residents are. Long-term care at times is looked at as an end-of-life setting, but our Residents in the facility lead very active lives, maintaining social groups, engaging in activities, etc.
What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? I am a board member on the Rappahannock Foundation for the Arts and work to bring all types of fine arts performances, even internationally, to the Northern Neck of Virginia. Expectedly, I enjoy coaching youth sports. I have been doing this for the last 11 years.
Nicole Beck, Assistant Administrator
Years with Virginia Health Services: Less than a year.
What drew you to a career in long-term care? I had a family member who was in a state facility and saw what happens when an administrator has control but doesn’t have passion. I wanted to change that.
How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? Juggler at a circus.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? How much time I don’t spend in my office. And that I can easily make my 10,000 steps a day in heels.
What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? Driving in the snow, when we had those couple days last month. I was loving it. Being outdoors, snow sports or mudding with the family.
York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Elizabeth Cabusora, Administrator
Years with Virginia Health Services: Started as administrator June 2021; was LPN at James River from 2008-2009.
What drew you to a career in long-term care? Caring for others — family, people of authority, peers, elderly – was part of my upbringing.
How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? Compassion is required.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? You can utilize your talents in your workplace — we all appreciate the effort!
What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? Karaoke 😊
Jordan Kay, Assistant Administrator
Years with Virginia Health Services: Almost a year and a half.
What drew you to a career in long-term care? I was drawn to working in long-term care for many reasons. The main reason is that I wanted to help those who have shaped all of us and the world into what we are today. I love being the reason one of my Resident’s smiles.
How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? Rewarding, fun, and a reason to smile.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? One moment I could be fixing a TV then the next moment I could be playing checkers with a Resident.
What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? I love spending my time off outside, whether that is hiking in the summer or snowboarding in the winter.
The unit adds 28 beds to its existing Memory Care services. The expansion brings Walter Reed’s capacity for Memory Care Residents to 51 beds.
What is Memory Care?
Memory Care is provided in a special secure unit to protect memory-impaired Residents. The new unit was spruced up to include a lounge area, private dining room and a Snoezelen Room. It is designed specifically for memory-impaired Residents, including individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The Snoezelen Room gives Residents a place to relax, offers privacy for family visits, and also can have its lighting and music adjusted to help Residents decompress.
Expanding at Walter Reed
The expanding service offerings are in response to the needs of the community, Administrator Bryant Hudgins said during the ceremony.
“We’ve had to navigate a lot of challenges during COVID. … We’ve had to adapt over the past two years and part of that adaptation has been to be more in tune with our community,” Hudgins said.
“We have to be able to sustain ourselves and be strong and recognize our community needs. … First thing that came to mind was Memory Care. Sometimes those residents are forgotten in the community. What our staff has been able to do here on our existing Memory Care unit is take those Residents and give them a sense of home and a great quality of life. It’s something we’ve been successful with, and with the space that we have, something we wanted to expand upon.”
Walter Reed’s Director of Nursing Lana Ketch did the honor of cutting the ribbon to open the unit. The rollout to move in Residents begins Tuesday, paced to give individuals the chance to get used to the space and the Walter Reed team.
Moving in Residents
There is more open space in the unit, and there is a porch connected to it and a garden on the other side. The Memory Care units have secured doors and a smaller staff-to-patient ratio.
“We’ll do a slow ramp up of admissions to get community members adjusted to the space,” Hudgins said.
Walter Reed is one of the only nursing and rehabilitation centers in the area to accept Medicaid patients in addition to those using Medicare and private pay.
The team in Walter Reed’s Memory Care units will have dedicated recreational services staff and a nursing team trained in dementia care.
“We want them to be engaged in the world they knew,” Hudgins said of providing programming and space suited for Memory Care Residents.
‘All levels of care’
Several members of the Virginia Health Services ‘corporate team joined members of Walter Reed’s team for the ceremony.
“We didn’t do this in the easiest of times,” VHS President and CEO Mark Klyczek said. “Thanks to the whole team for ensuring people in this facility are cared for. This is a great resource for the community,”
Walter Reed celebrated the re-opening of the Page unit in the fall. The wing added 16 private rooms for skilled care near the rehabilitation and therapy room, and also has a private dining space and sitting area.
“We are able to provide all levels of care,” Hudgins said. “We can run the whole gamut from skilled care to long-term care to memory care.”
We are celebrating National Activity Professionals Week (Jan. 23-29) by spotlighting our Activity Directors at Virginia Health Services senior living communities and nursing and rehabilitation centers.
Activity directors run recreation programs that are Resident-focused. Event and activities cater to Residents’ tastes and activity directors receive Residents’ input. The programs help Residents exercise their cognitive, sensory and motor skills.
Activity directors also drive employee engagement within their communities, helping with employee-centered events and activities to bolster morale and provide stress relief.
It’s not just fun and games! As our Activity Directors describe in their Q&As below, they are an integral part of care planning for Residents.
Meet our Activity Directors:
The Arbors Independent Living
The Arbors Activity Director Ora Williams recently joined us from The Hamilton.
Ora Williams has been with Virginia Health Services for about two years. She has been with The Hamilton Assisted Living through this month, and has moved to direct activities at The Arbors Independent Living. She says she loves to have fun with seniors!
She focuses on customer service, respect and love when supporting her fellow team members and Residents. She pays attention to the small details to make sure things go well for Residents and families. Her source of inspiration when planning activities comes from talking to the Residents. She listens to their input in creating calendars that are catered to their needs and interests.
Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Coliseum Activity Director Haley Holland often brings in her dog Millie, shown here, to provide pet therapy to Residents and team members.
Years with Virginia Health Services: 1.5 years.
What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? When I graduated college, I had no idea what population I wanted to work with. My first job was in an assisted living/memory care facility and I’ve never looked back. Working with older adults is truly my passion!
How do you support the center’s team and Residents? The recreation team at Coliseum is always coming up with fun programs, for Residents and the team members here. Our office door is always open for anyone who wants to pop in and chat. A favorite part of my job is the relationship you get to build with everyone in the facility.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? How active and FUNNY the Residents are. The Residents ALWAYS keep me on my toes.
Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? I’m a huge Pinterest/activity connection supporter. Most of the crafts/games come from there! I usually adapt it in some way to make it better for the Residents. Coliseum is a huge fan of doing “national holidays,” especially when it comes to sweet treats! Our Residents are also a huge inspiration for programs, we like to pull hobbies from their lives and make it a program, for example, flower arranging for our gardeners, or baking for our residents who used to bake.
Personal details: I really enjoy reading, hiking, binge-watching Netflix, and spending time with my husband and dog in my free time!
The Huntington Assisted Living & The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
April VanDyke pulls double-duty, serving as the Activity Director for The Huntington Assisted Living and The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Newport News.
Years with Virginia Health Services: 17.5.
What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? My Mom. She is a nurse and has always worked in long-term care settings. A wonderful trait I have of hers is caring for others. I started off as a CNA with Virginia Health Services and then worked in different areas before activities.
How do you support the center’s team and Residents? I try to help staff with morale and keep new exciting things going for the residents.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? Activities is different because you get to see and know Residents and sometimes bring out a different side of them than others see.
Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? Social media groups, Pinterest, Residents and co-workers.
Personal details: I have been married for 19 years. I have a 15-year-old son who plays football and I enjoy being his No. 1 fan at all of his games. I have two dogs, Kap and Harley. I enjoy spending time with my family.
James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
James River Activity Director Shawn Hanberry starting volunteering with senior populations before high school.
Years with Virginia Health Services: Almost six years. At James River about 25 years all together.
What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? Volunteering. My mother was a CNA at what was called Heritage Place Assisted Living in Poquoson (which is now Dominion Village of Poquoson) in the earlier years of her career and instead of getting a babysitter she would bring me to work with her. I volunteered in the activities department there and when I was in high school, I was a bingo volunteer through the Key Club.
How do you support the center’s team and Residents? Always treat everyone as equals and you will go far.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The amount of charting.
Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? From my Residents and what they like.
Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Lancashire Activity Director Tara Simmons uses her art background to generate engaging activities for Residents.
Years with Virginia Health Services: 2 this spring.
What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? I started working in Recreation Services 20 years ago when I saw a job advertising the opportunity to have “fun with seniors” and I could not resist the opportunity. I started as an activity assistant at another local facility here in Lancaster County and moved into a director position over the years. I think it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to be the Residents’ advocate and find ways to make their lives better.
How do you support the center’s team and Residents? Activity professionals often get to know our Residents and the staff in a different way than most of the team; I can be an ear to listen, a friend to confide in, and a cheerleader to brighten their days.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The paperwork! I think a lot of folks think activity professionals just play all day. We are more than just the bingo and crayon folks. We have a lot of paperwork that supports the Residents and is required by the state. We attend a lot of important meetings and are heavily involved in advocating for the Residents with Resident Council as well.
Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? With 20 years of doing this job, I use a lot of my history and the community of other activity professionals that are online. Each community is different and what works for one place won’t always work for another. It’s often the Residents at my community who lead to new ideas by expressing what they want!
Personal details: I have my degree in fine art and design and I am often working on my own art projects on the weekends. I have an entire ceramics studio set up in my basement. I am also working on my master’s degree in healthcare administration, so when I am not creating art, I am working hard on my classes.
Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Northampton Activity Director Charlene Craig has been with VHS for 32 years.
I have been with Virginia Health Services for 32 years. I started off as a nursing assistant in 1989 then started with activities in 2020. I am a team player with the staff and enjoy one-on-one visits with Residents, and bringing a smile to everyone’s face. I get my inspiration from my peers. In my spare time, I like to hang out with my dogs and have my own paint business with my man.
Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Hi, I am Julie P. Boothe, the Recreational Director at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehab Center. I am a military brat and moved around/traveled most of my young life both in the US and overseas, I love nature and the outdoors.
Walter Reed Activity Director Julie Boothe has community support in many activities and donations for Residents.
I have goats, chickens, turkeys, dogs and cats that keep me very busy. I have been married 40 years and have been blessed with 2 boys and their families. I believe every day is a gift from God and we should enjoy each and every one that he grants us.
I have been with Virginia Health Services for 28 wonderful years. I was drawn to the field by my compassion for the elderly population given to me by God. I help the elderly retain their dignity, lifestyle activities choices and self-worth through visits and activities. My activity team and volunteers engage our residents in activities like bingo, games, socials, music entertainment, gardening and churches (and more) within the facility. Then out in the community we eat out, go to movies, go shopping, cookouts, picnics, fishing trips and even see the Christmas lights.
One of our big trips was going out with the Coast Guard on their ship and being served lunch cooked up by their chef. We also did some fishing. Our community is a big part of our activity program and I so greatly appreciate their involvement. The stories the Residents share are funny and interesting. I remember talking to a resident in the past about Route 17 and she remembered when it was a dirt road. Another resident remembers seeing a vehicle for the first time coming over a hill and not knowing they even existed. By talking with the Residents, you find out what they like to do which is where a lot of your inspirations and ideas come from. It is fun comparing the past with the present. It has truly been a pleasure being a part of the Walter Reed family. Looking forward to the future.
York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
York Activity Director Mary Garrity helped deliver gifts to Residents at Christmas.
Years with Virginia Health Services: 5 (in March).
What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? The elderly have always had a place in my heart. I started my career at a senior center 20-plus years ago and have worked in several long-term facilities. I love to see the Residents happy and smiling, I love to challenge the Residents with word games and trivia, and I love to see the Residents dancing and singing
How do you support the center’s team and Residents? I support the team by helping where ever I can, having dress-down days, games and contests for the staff and Residents. We have become family and do whatever they need or want.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? Of all the many hats we wear, we help by serving meals, getting water for the Residents, being a good listener … all the little things that Residents need, including decorating for Christmas and other holidays.
Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? From the Residents’ likes and dislikes. Every facility is different and has different cultures. I use online resources like Activity Connection and share ideas with other activity professionals
Personal details: I love going to the beach, reading, interior decorating and furniture restoration.
A near lifetime of community service for Martha and Jerry Dodson was put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The contagion prevented the Dodsons from their usual rounds of facility-based volunteer activities, and for the most part suspended their annual 40-plus year tradition of being Santa and Mrs. Claus at nursing homes on the Peninsula.
The Dodsons are happy to be back into the swing of things again. It’s their most wonderful time of the year.
They have already presented gifts to Residents at The Newport, and have visits to The Huntington, The Hamilton and York on the books.
The Dodsons were some of the first volunteers back into Virginia Health Services’ facilities. They host crafts projects at The Huntington, resuming those visits in June.
Vaccinations, the use of PPE and changes to federal guidelines in regard to visitation in long-term care facilities have allowed VHS to welcome back volunteers.
Martha and Jerry Dodson have volunteered at The Newport and Huntington for at least 10 years.
While the world paused, Martha said she “missed feeling like I had a purpose.” Jerry nodded along with the sentiment.
She tapped into her arts and crafts background and started creating greeting cards during the time away. Even while the distribution of them was on hold, she said she started to feel like she had a purpose again.
Martha and members from her recently created painting group and members of the Junior Women’s Club of Hilton Village – of which Jerry is an honorary member as well – created nearly 100 cards to share with Residents at the Huntington and other nursing facilities in the area.
Jerry Dodson speaks to a Huntington Resident during craft time.
All of the VHS communities need volunteers to help with programs or to provide entertainment and fellowship to their Residents.
“Volunteering doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of time or money,” Martha said.
There are all kinds of ways you can volunteer, whether it’s by creating a card, volunteering to help with a craft project, or making a phone call.
“We fill in the gaps,” Jerry said. “We had so many relatives – and that’s OK, we don’t have any children – because Residents thought we were family.”
Martha added, “You just develop relationships, connect with folks, you know?”
Long history of volunteering
The Dodsons have more than 40 years developing those connections on the Peninsula. In addition to their Santa and Mrs. Claus gigs, which take them to nursing homes from Williamsburg to York County, Newport News and Hampton, they have been hospital clowns and Jerry often visits as the Easter Bunny.
Martha Dodson and her husband Jerry resumed volunteering at The Huntington in June.
Martha and Jerry have volunteered at The Huntington and The Newport for at least 10 years. They also do deliveries with Meals on Wheels, Jerry tends the grounds and landscaping at their church, and Martha has spent several years volunteering with a first-grade class (when in session).
It’s a volunteer opportunity she landed as a result of the people she networked with while volunteering at The Huntington.
Before building access was restricted because of the pandemic, Martha hosted craft projects once a month at The Huntington, and, often, The Newport.
Jerry was on the original board for the Peninsula Agency on Aging (and still is on the membership board), and worked as a social worker and in Adult Protective Services for the City of Hampton before retiring.
Volunteering was ingrained in him at a young age. Jerry’s father was in Lions Club, and Jerry saw his parents volunteer at schools. The torch was passed, he said.
He and Martha met as members of the first four-year graduating class at Christopher Newport University in Newport News. That class celebrated its 50th anniversary over the summer.
The Dodsons encourage volunteering in a nursing and rehabilitation center.
“When (the Residents) have a visitor, it’s a bright spot during the day. And it might only be for 30 seconds,” Martha said.
The Residents appreciate having someone to talk to, Jerry said.
All of Virginia Health Services’ communities are rebuilding their volunteer programs.
Church and youth groups, school service organizations, Greek life and other college organizations, and individuals are needed to help facilitate activities and provide social interaction and support to Residents.
Applications are being accepted at all VHS facilities. Criminal background checks, PPD tests and proof of the COVID-19 vaccination are asked of those who volunteer in a building consistently more than 10 hours a week.
Contact the facility nearest you to apply and discuss options with the Activities team.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.