In their words: VHS residents share life stories for Skilled Nursing Care Week 2024

It’s National Skilled Nursing Care Week (May 12-18)! 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 and Rehabilitation Center

James Genus

James Genus – or as we affectionately call him, Mr. G – has been at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center since February 2021. He never misses an activity and always waves hello.

Originally from Rockville, Maryland, Mr. G was stationed at Fort Eustis after returning from flying for the Army in Vietnam. He served as a flight engineer for seven years in the Army, leaving as an E-5 in 1966.

Coliseum resident Mr. G.

It was while he was stationed at Fort Eustis that he met his wife. Even after struggling to find a job “as a Black man” in the area, they didn’t leave.

Instead he opened his own string of businesses, including a portable cleaning service.

“I learned I could make more money doing that than something in aviation (at that time),” he says.

Mr. G’s businesses brought in a lot of money and at its peak employed 40. His janitorial and environmental services businesses spanned several states, including Delaware and North Carolina, and they had contracts with several small colleges, he said.

“I never got a big head. Because it comes but you got a partner, and that partner’s the government. … I always stayed low-key, and I teach my son the same thing. He thanks me all the time,” he says.

Mr. G’s success translated to his son, also named James, though in a far different path. His son has played bass with the Saturday Night Live Band for about 20 years, and is also a freelance musician who has toured the world with Herbie Hancock.

He lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children.

Mr. G has been to see his son perform on the set of “SNL” many times, he says, but couldn’t quite pinpoint a favorite host.

“I don’t know (who my favorite host was),” he says. “I was just there to see him.”

James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Sandra Jordan

Sandra Jordan has been at James River for almost 15 years. With little family in the area, she relies on the team at James River for support.

“They look out for me and help me,” she says.

James River resident Sandra Jordan.

Sandra originally is 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 says.

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 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 and Rehabilitation Center

Sandra Scripture

Sandra Scripture has called Lancashire home since January 2023. She moved in for the extra help – and to help ease her children’s minds.

“I’m a china doll on the wall and I have somebody here to pick me up when I fall,” she says.

The 24/7 nursing care, regular meals and housekeeping are benefits to staying at Lancashire. It’s also close to some of her children. She lived in Northumberland since 1983, but was born and raised in Caroline County.

Sandra Scripture calls Lancashire home.

Sandra is a regular in the therapy room to keep up strength in her knee, using the stationary bike and other equipment when she has the chance.

She participates in Resident Council, but prefers to skip some of the activities.

“I’ve always had to meet deadlines, I enjoy just being able to relax and think and read,” she says.

Sandra was in dentistry for 50 years. She worked for a dentist as an assistant who made her learn everything, she says, “and that was the foundation for my career. I worked for several other dentists and they all found me as knowledgeable as they were.”

There is a plaque in the division of dental health in Richmond in honor of the work she did for rural Virginia. Sandra worked for state dental health division for 15 years.

“I’m just an average person who loved people and loved the Lord and enjoyed life,” she says.

With a last name like Scripture, it was inevitable Sandra’s husband would pursue ministry. He attended seminary 20 years after graduating from Virginia Tech and working for the state in Richmond in the division of health research.

“We were late in life doing things,” Sandra says.

They fostered 14 children during their marriage, adopting a son, and have three children. Sandra says there are “a bunch of grandsons and great-grandchildren – who knows where they are, but they keep in touch!” (It’s with a smile – there are just too many locations to recall in an interview.)

They both usually held two jobs. Sandra’s husband passed in November 2022.

“He preached on Sunday and died on Tuesday,” she says.

Their youngest daughter got in the pulpit the Sunday after he passed and has been preaching at Wicomico Baptist in Remo since. Sandra says she gets there every so often for services.

“As much as we think about our future – I never wanted to go to a nursing home, but it’s actually in my mind the best thing for us older people. Gives our children peace of mind that somebody’s always watching us.

“I think we elders need to rethink the thought that I don’t ever want to go to a nursing home. It’s not home, but it’s the next best thing.”

Robert Laws

Robert Laws was the maintenance tech at Lancashire.

Robert Laws has resided at Lancashire for about four years.

His many odd jobs throughout life – where he was a cook, installed fences and “everything in the name of the world” included serving as the former maintenance foreman at Lancashire.

The Lancaster County native has a lot of family members in the area and says he gets along with everyone.

“Life is a character, it goes on and on. I love my life,” he says with a kind smile. “… I’m cool, that’s all you need to know. No more, no less than that.”

Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Charles Speller

Peninsula native Charles Speller moved to Northampton from the VA Hospital about a year ago. He served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, working aboard ships as a fireman.

Charles Speller moved into Northampton from the VA Hospital.

“It was exciting,” he says.

When he returned to dry land, he worked at the Newport News shipyard as a plumber.

“If pipes were damaged and needed fixing on ships, they would call us. I couldn’t count all the pipes on a ship,” he says.

After spending five years at the shipyard, he worked as a plumber for his uncle’s company.

At Northampton, Charles goes to as many activities as he can. Some of his favorites are live entertainment, church services, arts and crafts, Bingo and music with Mr. Teller – “the ‘Piano Man,’ he’s good,” he says.

He also appreciates the physical therapists at Northampton.

Suzanne Joyner

You get a sense of some of Suzanne Joyner’s loves when you step into her space. One the walls are photographs and paintings highlighting her joys – her family and ballroom dancing.

The former competitive ballroom dancer ran a dance studio for 27 years in Hampton.

“I never worked a day in my life,” she says of her love for dance. She also won several “best teacher” awards.

Before owning the studio, she owned a sewing machine store for 21 years. She also is devoted to her family.

Suzanne Joyner owned a ballroom dance studio in Hampton. She says she “never worked a day in my life.”

She was married for almost 60 years until he passed. They met as teenagers when he worked as a painter for her father.

“I loved him so much,” she says. “If you ever find a man you love, listen to what he says to you. You have to be friends first – be his friend.”

Suzanne has three living children, including a son who is an artist, and an adopted daughter who works for VHS Hospice and suggested Northampton. She also has six grandchildren and six great-grands – “I love them all!”

She has had two strokes, one of which “debilitated me.” She did a skilled rehabilitation stint at The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, was discharged home, and then returned more permanently to Northampton.

“I’m a determined person,” she says. “I like it (here); I’m getting used to it. … I think I get the best care they can give me.”

She participates in as many activities as she can, including Bingo, and really loves when there’s live music. She also reads and plays games on her iPad.

Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Connie Strickland

When Connie Strickland came to Walter Reed about three years ago, she was paralyzed. She could barely lift her head when someone fed her.

She did physical therapy for about a year.

Walter Reed resident Connie Strickland.

“The therapists did a fantastic job with me. I hated them. But they got me moving, and I can do everything except walk with left leg and my back is not good. Other than that, I’m fine,” she says.

Now she visits the therapy room to encourage those there that “it isn’t hopeless,” she says. “Those therapists, I call them my angels.”

She now lives across the hall from her best friend Lola, and the women on the unit have become fast friends.

“I do find I love it here,” she says. “They’re really good to me and we all have a good time.”

She participates in as many activities as she’s able – with Bingo and “all the thinking activities” being her favorites. “I stay busy,” she says.

Connie also is an active member of Resident Council.

Originally from West Virginia, where she met her husband in 11th grade, they moved to the Gloucester area to take care of members of her husband’s family before he passed.

They were married (one month shy of) 50 years.

While in West Virginia, they did a lot of camping, fishing and boating – and had a lot of dogs. Connie has portraits of them up in her room, which drew Lola to inquire about them, igniting their friendship.

Connie taught English for 35 years – “all the way from elementary to college. I loved it,” she says.

Since moving to Virginia, she made several friends she relies on, including best friends who serve as her responsible party.

“I think this is a good place for anybody,” she says. “I was meant to be here, that’s what I’ve told people. … that’s how we all look at it. We take care of each other.”

Connie and Lola, right, live across the hall from one another and are best friends at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Lola Colgan

Lola Colgan lives across the hall from her best friend at Walter Reed. She’s been a resident for about a year and a half, and struck up a conversation with hallmate Connie Strickland.

“I’m a fanatic about dogs and I talked to her about her pictures,” Lola says. “We found out we have a lot in common. We get along real well; we do everything together pretty much, but Bingo is our thing.”

She, Connie and their hallmates are all close. They sit in the hall and talk; help one another when they can.

“Of course, I would prefer to be well enough to live on my own again, but I’ve tried several facilities and this is the best one I’ve found,” she says.

It’s closer to her daughter in Mathews, who visits frequently. Lola also says she and her friends at Walter Reed feel heard. They attend Resident Council meetings and “we voice our opinions about diet and activities and personnel, and we do seem to get a voice and they to seem to listen to us and react to our comments,” she says.

While she’s lived in the Gloucester area for about 20 years, she moved with her family from Arkansas when she was 6 and Lola spent her earlier years living in Hampton and Newport News.

The Hampton High grad worked at Newport News Shipbuilding for more than 20 years. She started in the sewing department, but found she was more interested in building ventilation systems for air craft carriers and submarines.

“I enjoyed ventilation and rose in rank in that department. It was hands-on; I could see it being built,” Lola says.

That desire to use her hands translated to her out-of-office interests. She did a lot of crafts such as stenciling. She also liked gardening. When she and her husband moved into a house that wasn’t landscaped, they landscaped it, including digging a koi pond.

Lola met her husband of 21 years – “that was the keeper,” she says with a laugh – while working at the shipyard. She raised three children, and has two granddaughters and a grandson.

Woodland Scott Jr.

Woodland Scott isn’t the only one from his family at Walter Reed. A brother lives on another unit, so they are able to see one another frequently.

Mr. Scott visits his brother, who also is a resident at Walter Reed, often.

Originally from Middlesex, Woodland moved after graduating high school and worked for a utility company in Woodbridge, N.J., as an office administrator for more than 20 years. He returned to Virginia after retirement. Three brothers still live in New Jersey.

The Army veteran is a music fan, and going to shows was his favorite form of entertainment while living in New Jersey.

“That was about all we were doing back then, going to shows. Then there was Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips … after you get a certain age, they (performer names) don’t come to you as quick,” he says with a chuckle.

He says at Walter Reed, “overall, I like it because they let you just be yourself.

“It took me adjustments when I first got here, but God brought me through it, so I’m all right.”

York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Charles Ramirez

York resident Charles Ramirez loves music. He often can be found in the activity room, listening to a variety of genres.

You can usually find Charles listening to music somewhere at York.

But his favorite song?

“I don’t know, there are so many of them,” he says. “This might sound crazy, came out in 1961, ‘Moon River’ has always been one of my favorites, written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer.”

It’s featured in the Audrey Hepburn movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which inspired a recent tea party at York that Charles enjoyed.

The community King of Valentine’s Day is also is well-versed in local history, having spent most of his time living in Hampton and the Gloucester area. On a trip to the Mariners’ Museum, he shared tidbits about local athletic pros, such as Michael Vick, Ronald Curry and Allen Iverson.

Charles is a veteran, serving in the Navy for four years during the Vietnam War. He is a jack of many trades, having worked as an insurance salesman and security guard before retiring from Canon.

Learn more about us

Virginia Health Services owns and operates seven nursing and rehabilitation centers on the Peninsula, Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck. Each offers skilled care, long-term care and respite care. Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center features an on-site Dialysis Den, operated in partnership with DaVita Kidney Care. Memory Care is available at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Learn more about our care options and employment opportunities at vahs.com.

Thank you to our volunteer network at VHS!

Our team and communities appreciate the support of a network of volunteers who provide companionship, assistance and support to our residents, their loved ones and the staff. During National Volunteer Week, we are recognizing a few volunteers who have made a difference to our communities.

Virginia Health Services is lucky to have so many volunteers who give their time to our communities. Last year we highlighted those who provide church services at Coliseum, long-time volunteer at Walter Reed Ray Agtay, quilter and volunteer extraordinaire Gala Damato at The Hamilton Assisted Living, and Martha and Jerry Dodson at The Huntington Assisted Living, who do a craft each month with the residents.

Volunteers from Therapy Dogs International are so giving of their time, and their pets, visiting residents at several of our communities weekly. Master Gardeners from Hampton, Newport News and Walter Reed do craft sessions monthly with residents at Northampton, James River and Walter Reed.

There are many churches and individuals who host services, Bible studies and gospel music sessions across our communities.

At Northampton, Wanda has called Bingo for 32 years. She previously worked in the dietary department. “I love it,” she said.

We can’t do what we do without the kindness of our volunteers. Thank you to all who take the time!

Here are a few more volunteer stories:

THE HAMILTON ASSISTED LIVING

Dottie James

Dottie James started volunteering to lead Bible study shortly after The Hamilton opened. Her aunt had moved in and shared with Dottie she missed church and Bible study.

“God kind of tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘you can do something about that,’” Dottie said.

She had led a Bible study group at The since, with a brief hiatus at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak and to deal with a personal health issue. She has led the group in-person and virtually in that time.

“I made the decision to do this for my aunt,” Dottie said. “I will come as long as I can be here.”

She has led Bible study, written Bible studies for her church and helped teach the upcoming group of leaders. She feels called to provide Bible study to those who need it off campus.

“These women miss church. They miss the fellowship of their church circles. They miss all of that,” Dottie said. “This gives them a chance. I’ve seen community build within this group and I love that.”

Bible study leader Dottie James

She said she teaches straight from the Bible – the group picks the book they want to go through.

“I try to teach everything in context. When there are places different churches may interpret differently, we acknowledge that and I have them share ‘what’s your experience with this topic,’” she said.

One resident has been with the group since foundation.

“The people here, the residents here are wonderful. They’re a little bit invisible in the community, but they have value, worth, they’re worth knowing and spending time with, and I love that I get to do that,” Dottie said.

“It’s a very supportive, welcoming place to volunteer. Kirstie is nothing short of amazing, she has so much energy. I appreciate all the support she gives to gather the women and help them get to the activity room for Bible study.”

Dottie has lived primarily on the Peninsula, and originally is from Newport News. She attended college at Virginia Tech and taught high school math in southwestern Virginia for two years before moving back east.

Dottie also is a creative person who likes to create using paper medium. She was one of seven original founders of Blue Skies Gallery in downtown Hampton, and was involved for seven years.

“I’m very proud we created something that’s still there,” she said. While it has changed formats over the years, its main concentration is still on displaying work by local artists.

LANCASHIRE NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER

Joyce Taylor

The residents at Lancashire love volunteer Joyce Taylor, and the feeling is mutual.

Joyce is a daily presence at Lancashire, volunteering for just about any activity, including Bingo and wine and cheese tastings. The former Lancashire dietary team member also occasionally eats lunch with a group of residents.

If she isn’t there, the residents will request Activity Director Amber Watson call and encourage her to visit.

“She’s like family,” Amber says.

The Lancaster County native is typically at Lancashire from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. most days.

“She’s a big help with everything,” Administrator Amy Payne says.

WALTER REED NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER

Kristy Gust

Kristy Gust has volunteered with Walter Reed for almost three years. What started as having Bible study with a friend who was a resident has grown to weekly Bible study sessions held in the dining room.

Fishers for Men Ministries also developed about three years ago, led by Kristy and Pastor D. “It blew up. God has expanded the territory,” Kristy said.

Supported by Petsworth Baptist Church and other church partners, the ministry offers two outreach events at Walter Reed each year. The group is hosting a “yard sale” for residents, plus food from Scoot’s BBQ, sno-cones and bluegrass music, on Saturday, April 27.

Kristy said the “yard sale” items are donated by church members and are free to residents. Once everyone has shopped, the “sale” is open to Walter Reed team members.

“We want to get them outside to do something they normally wouldn’t be able to do,” Kristy said. “We love, love, love those residents. They’re precious to god and they’re precious to us. … Also, the team does such a phenomenal job taking care of the residents. I know all of them by name and it’s a joy to work with them.”

Fishers of Men Ministries also hosts a holiday party for residents, their loved ones and the Walter Reed team. Kristy and Pastor D also do Bible study at the men’s and women’s prisons in Henrico and do street ministry at the bus station in Richmond.

Following a long illness, Kristy says she was saved and born again four years ago.

“I want to do what God’s called me to do now – love God and love people,” she said, adding volunteering is “something that more people should get involved with – it’s a blessing in blessing others, and brings deep sense of fulfillment when you can help somebody else.”

During events, several others from the church volunteer at Walter Reed.

“We’re thankful to be there. It’s a privilege and honor to work with them,” she said. “I look forward to being there and look forward to these outreaches.”

YORK NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER

George Conway

You can find George Conway at York almost every afternoon. He visits his wife and also volunteers with the recreational therapy team to provide companionship and support for the residents.

He has a drawer of tools to do odd jobs around the activity room, including fixing bookcases. And he builds the frames for the residents’ completed puzzles to be displayed. There are several hanging on the walls of the activity room and in the dining room. Some are hung in resident rooms as well.

George Conway spends time daily at York, to visit his wife and other residents. He also builds frames for puzzles and other handyman help.

“I was here and I like working with people, being around people – and they needed some help in here,” he says of volunteering at York. “Just trying to make life more comfortable for (the residents). They don’t have anywhere else to be, why not make it more comfortable for them.”

No stranger to volunteering, George spent 32 years with Odyssey of the Mind as a judge and problem-solver (ending his run as state problem-solver). He was pulled out of retirement this year to be a judge. He also was a docent at Virginia Air and Space Center for about seven years and volunteered at Animal Aid Society no-kill shelter in Hampton for 10 years.

Fort Monroe was the final assignment for the retired Army lieutenant colonel – who did tours in Vietnam and Korea. He and his wife settled their family in York County because he was done moving around.

“People need people – and a lot of these folks don’t have anybody,” he said. “I try to come in and make them smile. I don’t stay very long, but I’m here every day for a couple of hours.”

VHS HOSPICE

Our VHS Hospice team is recruiting volunteers to help provide comfort and compassion to the individuals in their care and their loved ones.

“It’s really a privilege to work with these individuals,” says Julie, who has volunteered with Hospice for about six years.

VHS Hospice social worker and volunteer coordinator Ariane Minette says the team provides all training, including study guides and discussion of scenarios. Volunteering is about 90% companionship, she says.

“Volunteers should have empathy and commitment to the individuals and their families. We’re looking for people who want to engage with others,” she says.

Hospice is recruiting in all communities across the Peninsula, Williamsburg, York County and the Gloucester area. There are also opportunities to volunteer in the Hospice office, answering phones and responding to emails.

“We are very grateful for whatever time can be given,” Ariane says.

If being a volunteer with VHS Hospice is of interest to you, visit vahs.com/hospice-volunteer to learn more.

Volunteer with VHS

All of Virginia Health Services’ communities are happy to accept volunteers.

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.

VHS Hospice also is looking for volunteers interested in assisting those in end-of-life care and their caregivers.

Contact the community nearest you to apply and discuss options with our team.

Volunteer locations

Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 305 Marcella Road, Hampton, Virginia 23666

Phone: 757-827-8953

Contact: Shawn Hill, Activities Director

The Hamilton Assisted Living

Address: 113 Battle Road, Yorktown, Virginia 23692

Phone number: 757-243-8559

Contact: Kirstie Saunders, Activities Director

The Huntington Assisted Living

Address: 11143 Warwick Blvd., Newport News, Virginia 23601

Phone: 757-223-0888

Contact: Devyn Hotop, Activity Director

James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 540 Aberthaw Ave., Newport News, Virginia 23601

Phone: 757-595-2273

Contact: Shawn Hanberry, Activity Director

Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 287 School St., Kilmarnock, Virginia 22482

Phone: 804-435-1684

Contact: Amber Watson, Activity Director

The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 11141 Warwick Blvd., Newport News, Virginia 23601

Phone: 757-595-3733

Contact: Jamel DeCosta, Activity Director

Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 1028 Topping Lane, Hampton, Virginia 23666

Phone: 757-826-4922

Contact: Erica Donaldson, Activity Director

Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 7602 Meredith Drive, Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia 23061

Phone: 804-693-6503

Contact: Julie Boothe, Activity Director

York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 113 Battle Road, Yorktown, Virginia 23692

Phone: 757-898-1491

Contact: Mary Garrity, Activity Director

VHS Hospice

Phone: 757-663-6276.

Contact: Ariane Minette, social work and volunteer coordinator

VHS highlights Registered Dietitians’ nutrition expertise on National RD Day

Keeping our residents healthy in every aspect is a priority for Virginia Health Services. As we celebrate National Nutrition Month and recognize National Registered Dietitian Day, it’s important to understand nutrition is a critical component of health and wellness of all residents in the long-term care setting.

“Nutrition affects every part of the body and all of its functions,” says VHS Director of Dining and Nutrition Christina Lewis. “For residents with chronic health conditions, nutrition plays a vital role in the treatment of those conditions and the prevention of further complications.

“For residents recovering from illnesses, injuries or surgeries, good nutrition can help them regain their strength and stamina more quickly.”

VHS has a team of Registered Dietitian (RDs) who assess our residents and work with the nursing staff and dietary team (who are celebrated during Healthcare Food Service Workers Week in October) to administer medical nutrition therapy for residents, assist food and nutrition service directors with special diets and menus, and conduct regular sanitation audits.

Our team, led by Christina, include three contracted RDs and full-time team member Pamela “Ela” Bowen, who works with residents at The Hamilton Assisted Living, and York and Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers.

From VHS intern to Registered Dietician

In her role, Ela works closely with York/Hamilton dining director Nicole Freeman. She is familiar with Nicole, who served as Ela’s preceptor during her internship en route to becoming a RD with VHS.

Ela Bowen started as a dietetic tech with VHS, then an intern before joining the team as a registered dietician.
Ela Bowen started as a dietetic tech with VHS, then an intern before joining the team as a registered dietitian.

“She always made sure whatever we had to accomplish, there was a way to accomplish it. I always felt supported. She guided and worked with me to get done what I needed to get done. It gave me a lot of peace to know someone was in my corner,” Ela says of working with Nicole.

Ela was a dietetic tech with VHS, which led to finding preceptors within the organization to help her complete internship hours to graduate the program at Virginia Tech and prepare her for the certification exam. She graduated in May 2023 and started full-time with our team.

“I’m appreciative of the opportunity Virginia Health Services gave me to be an intern, prior as a tech, and now as an RDN,” Ela says. “It’s nice being able to step back into a familiar position coming right out of passing my exam.”

She was given a good foundation with VHS and feels like she learns something new every day.

Keeping tabs

While assisted living communities need bi-annual reports on special diets and weight loss/gain, nursing home regulations are more frequent.

Ela’s main responsibilities are charting on new resident admissions, marking significant changes for weight losses monthly, preparing quarterly reports, seeing residents about potential special needs or dietitian consults at nurse practioners’ requests. There are regular resident assessments of food intake, diet, weight management, changes in skin integrity, monitoring of supplements, and swallowing or chewing problems.

She has weekly meetings with the York nursing staff to keep proactive monitoring of residents’ nutritional needs.

“We’re really working as a team to try to proactively make sure we’re on top of residents not losing weight, which can add to other issues, such as skin integrity,” Ela says. “I’m excited to be part of the team to make sure residents have the best care they can.”

VHS Director of Dining and Nutrition Christina Lewis hosts a healthy cooking demonstration at The Arbors Independent Living.
VHS Director of Dining and Nutrition Christina Lewis hosts a healthy cooking demonstration at The Arbors Independent Living.

Good nutrition key

Not enough protein or lack of certain nutrition can affect skin integrity and lead to wounds, Ela says.

“Our role is to provide preferences, fortified foods and supplements to increase residents’ protein intake.”

That also includes menu planning, which Christina oversees.

“As many residents make their home with us, it is also important to consider their food preferences along with their nutritional needs. Providing meals that are tasty as well as nutritious is what we strive for every day,” Christina says.

Basket of healthy foods for your mind, such as leafy greens, oats, whole grain bread, extra virgin olive oil and fresh berries.
A basket of healthy foods for your mind, such as leafy greens, oats, whole grain bread, extra virgin olive oil and fresh berries.

Ela says she was drawn to a profession in nutrition when her granddad had cancer.

“I wondered if having certain nutrition or a specific diet would help prevent certain diseases. It’s what triggered wanting to be a dietitian,” she says.

Ela says meeting residents is her favorite part of the job. She has a good teacher in Nicole.

“One of the reasons I wanted to be here is that she really knows her residents. And that takes time to acquire. That’s been really helpful,” Ela says. “Because she was a really good preceptor, I wanted to work hand-in-hand with her as I was learning to be the best dietitian I could be.”

Join our team

We have career pathways in our dietary department across the organization. Search our listings and apply at vahs.com/careers.

VHS celebrates Long-Term Care Administrators Week

We’re celebrating National Long-Term Care Administrators Week (March 11-15). Our administrators are entrusted with the responsibility of managing the care of our loved ones. They interact daily with the individuals in our care, their friends and loved ones, and lead the care team to provide the highest level of quality care.

“Our members give their all in the face of great adversity to assure their communities are able to provide high quality care and services to the elders in their care. Their professionalism as they deal with the many issues before them, and putting the needs of their patients, residents, families, and co-workers ahead of their own deserves our highest recognition,” said Bob Lane, CNHA, FACHCA, President & CEO of ACHCA.

Virginia Health Services thanks our team of administrators across our seven nursing and rehabilitation centers and two assisted living communities. Meet our VHS administrators and assistant administrator:

COLISEUM NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER

Dudley Haas, Administrator

Coliseum Administrator Dudley Haas.

Years of service with VHS:  11 years.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? When I moved here as a single mom I needed a job that was conducive to day care – and I started as a Quality Assurance (QA) nurse.

How would you describe your job in 5 words or less? Controlled chaos, different daily.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? I do not sit at a desk all day; I am on the floor and in all the departments.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility? Travel.

Aleisha Anderson, Assistant Administrator

Coliseum Assistant Administrator Aleisha Anderson.

Years of service with VHS: A little over a year.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? Since childhood, I have had a passion to help others and always knew I would have a career related to helping others within a community. I have been in the healthcare field for more than 10 years, expanding my abilities in dental, hospital, and most recently, within long-term care settings.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? How staff, residents and families work together to deliver a high quality of care.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility? I love to spend time with family and friends. The beach is my happy place. I have a passion to travel, love to decorate and event plan, and enjoy attending festivals.

LANCASHIRE NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER

Amy Payne, Administrator

Lancashire Administrator Amy Payne.

Years of service with VHS: Two years in June.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? I was raised to care for others and always be kind, caring and compassionate. I began a career in long-term care over 25 years ago. My background includes nursing, in-patient rehabilitation, family practice/urgent care, and now administration. I am excited to continue working in the environment I am familiar with and passionate about. I enjoy sharing learning experiences, guidance, resources, and knowledge with team members to help us all deliver the best quality care to residents.

How would you describe your job in 5 words or less? Fast-paced, rewarding, enjoyable, humbling!

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The volume and diversity of duties completed daily. No two days are the same!

What is something you like to do outside of the facility? Anything outside, on the water, beach and boating, bonfires/campfires. I love spending time with my family and friends.

THE NEWPORT NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER

Stephen G. Berczek, Administrator

Stephen is the administrator at The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and The Huntington Assisted Living.

Years of service with VHS: About five years.

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 administrative roles. I have always enjoyed helping others, especially the elderly.

How would you describe your job in 5 words or less? 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? Snowboarding, traveling, working on motorcycles/cars, hiking, boating, fishing.

NORTHAMPTON NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER

DeShae Morse, Administrator

Portrait of DeShae Morse
Northampton Administrator DeShae Morse.

Years/Months of service with VHS:  11 months with VHS (20 years overall as a long-term care administrator). 

What drew you to a career in long-term care? My grandmother worked in healthcare at CHKD for 28 years. She possesses a strong passion for helping and serving others. Also, my desire to have personal involvement in serving my employees and producing positive outcomes for those who cannot care for themselves. 

How would you describe your job in 5 words or less? Divine assignment to serve others. 

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? With my team, we actually have loads of fun in the midst of the whirlwind that’s healthcare as we know it today. In this arena of healthcare, we often laugh, cry and have to pray for sanity in the same day!

What is something you like to do outside of the facility? Fun day/overnight trips and relaxing on the water. 

WALTER REED NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER

Bryant Hudgins, Administrator

Bryant Hudgins
Bryant Hudgins has been with VHS for 29 years. He built a career from CNA at Walter Reed to administrator.

Years of service with VHS: 29 years.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? I’ve always enjoyed helping others and as I turned older I unfortunately witnessed my grandparents and other older members of my family endure long, drawn-out illnesses. The more I become engaged in healthcare, I realized how long-term care would give me the opportunity to help others in need as they aged. Also, the security and stability a career in healthcare would guarantee.

How would you describe your job in 5 words or less? A continuous evolution in healthcare.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? How different every single day is. The duties of my job not only encompass the resident care and services but also physical plant and quality control of environment. It makes no single day ever the same.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility? I enjoy spending time with my family an am always out supporting youth sports. I recently completed my 10th year of coaching travel AAU basketball in 2022.

Join our team

We are looking for administrators for our James River and York Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers. Visit vahs.com/careers to view the job listing and apply online.

Women’s History Month: VHS highlights women’s integral role to advancement of medical care on Peninsula

In honor of Women’s History Month, Virginia Health Services is shining a light on the pivotal role women played in the advancement of medical treatment on the Peninsula.

VHS was founded in 1963 and for more than 60 years has strived to be the provider of choice for senior living, senior care, rehabilitation, home health and hospice. We recognize the value of our location in Hampton Roads and its rich history, which includes contributions to the medical field. And we’re proud to partner with Fort Monroe to celebrate women’s contributions to nursing and therapy this March.

Nurses stand in a group during a photo shoot at Fort Monroe in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of Fort Monroe)
A group of nurses views records during a photo shoot for the 50th anniversary of the Army Corps of Nurses. (Photo courtesy of Fort Monroe.)

We asked Fort Monroe archivist Ali Kolleda to share some of the former Army post’s history of women nurses and reconstruction aides, who were the precursors to occupational and physical therapists.

“World War I was a big turning point for the medical field, and specifically women’s involvement,” Ali said.

The research extensively shows the integral role of women’s work in the Army, well before they were allowed to enlist in 1943.

Virginia Health Services continues the tradition of supporting women’s roles in providing care on the Peninsula.

Civil and Spanish-American Wars

Fort Monroe was a hub for the treating of wounded soldiers during the Civil and Spanish-American Wars. It was considered easy to access along the waterways, and was the only Union stronghold in the South during the Civil War.

At the time, Ali said, “Fort Monroe was lauded as ‘a miraculous climate that could cure disease,’ and the Hygeia Hotel was meant to allow wealthy people to convalesce and ‘take to the waters.’ Hygeia was named after the goddess of health.”

Nurses were treating malaria en masse and wounded soldiers from combat.

During the Spanish-American War, articles are written about how exemplary the nurses’ care is when treating soldiers returning from Cuba, Ali said.

Archive image of Chesapeake Females Seminary (now home of the Hampton VA). Courtesy of Fort Monroe
Archive image of Chesapeake Females Seminary (now home of the Hampton VA). (Photo courtesy of Fort Monroe.)

There were between three and four hospitals set up at Fort Monroe during the Civil War. The complex included the Post hospital, a requisitioned the ballroom at the Hygeia Hotel, the then-Chesapeake Female Seminary, a tent Hampton Hospital (for enlisted soldiers) and a contraband hospital at the Fort’s entrance.

They were huge complexes with hundreds, if not thousands, of nurses running them.

“They’re called volunteer nurses through Spanish-American War,” Ali said. They were taught at medical schools and apprenticeships through hospitals. Many nurses were trained through the Red Cross.

A circular published during Civil War (possibly by Dorthea Dix) advertised for “matronly women, widows – women who don’t have dependents,” Ali said.

Ali said that changes, especially during times of war. Some women would follow their drafted sons and husbands to the post as nurses.

Lucina Emerson Whitney, volunteer Civil War nurse at Monroe
Lucina Emerson Whitney, volunteer Civil War nurse at Monroe. (Photo courtesy of Fort Monroe.)

“Lucina Emerson Whitney followed two sons who were serving in the 67th Regiment, Ohio Infantry, which was sent to Virginia,” Ali writes based on Fort Monroe archived documents. “She was assigned to the Hampton General Hospital (of the U.S. General Hospital, Fortress Monroe) in June 1863 where she served for the duration of the war.”

During this time, black women could not enroll in the Red Cross. There is not a record of black women as nurses at Fort Monroe during WWI.

Black women were contracted during the Civil War at Camp Hamilton (Phoebus) as nurses. Harriett Tubman was at the Fort during Civil War to inspect the contraband hospital. She was offered the job as head nurse – “we don’t know if she came back because the war was over at that point. We know she was here for three months conducting the inspection,” Ali said.

Records at the end of Civil War (1870s) show that black midwives delivered children at the Fort.

“They were here,” Ali said, “but wouldn’t have been officially considered Army nurses in the Nurse Corps.”

Army Corps of Nurses

Army nurses are at Fort Monroe consistently from 1901, not just times of war.

“(Training) becomes formalized in 1901 at the end of the Spanish-American War when the Army realizes they need a permanent body of nurses,” Ali said. “The Army Nurse Corps is created at that point. Army nurses are contracted, not enlisted, so there are no benefits. They’re not considered veterans. They’re simply civilian women contracted as nurses.”

They developed a community on the post. Ali said Fort Monroe has community activity bulletins in the collections from the 1910s and 1920s that outlined who could swim at the community pool, and when.

Women, as nurses, were considered the equivalent of officers. They were accepted as a social part of the fort. At the end of WWI, with influenza ramping up, black women were allowed to enroll as nurses with the Army Nurse Corps through the Red Cross. They were assigned to certain posts in the Army, not necessarily at Fort Monroe.

Nurses at work at Fort Monroe in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of Fort Monroe
Nurses at work at Fort Monroe around the time of the 50th anniversary of the Army Corps of Nurses in 1951. (Photo courtesy of Fort Monroe.)

Women enlist in Army medical unit

Women were open to enlist in 1943. Nurses’ quarters were constructed at Fort Monroe and nurses arrive in 1944. Women had their own barracks, mess hall, and were segregated from the male companies. They fall under the chief of staff for Army Field Forces.

At their time of enlistment, men and women received the same benefits and pay for the same rank. There were limitations placed on women for what rank they could reach until the 1970s. During WWII, their rank was usually captain or major.

The Army Corps of Nurses celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1951. The Fort Monroe collection includes medical unit lists of those women, souvenir menus and other items.

“(Women) become a very well-integrated part of the Army at that point, 1943 onward,” Ali said.

Photo of Captain Elizabeth Steindel, which appeared in the Daily Press on April 11, 1943. (Courtesy of Fort Monroe.)
Photo of Captain Elizabeth Steindel, which appeared in the Daily Press on April 11, 1943. (Courtesy of Fort Monroe.)

Ali shared an anecdote about Captain Elizabeth E. Steindel, who was chief nurse at Fort Monroe for about two years (1943-1945) during World War II. She was trained at Mercy Hospital in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and was commissioned as an Army nurse in 1942. She taught an accelerated course at the Fort Monroe station hospital to train nurse’s aides in 1945 – which sounds like a precursor to the CNA apprentice training currently offered by Virginia Health Services.

According to a newspaper article from the time, “the Monroe nurses get a certain amount of military drill and calisthenics.” The article also states there was “a staff of 12 handling a 139-bed hospital.”

Once Fort Eustis, Fort Story and Langley Air Force Base are established, the military dispersed medical stations around Hampton Roads.

The Fort Monroe hospital, which still stands on Ingalls Road, was converted to a clinic after the 1950s. Fort Monroe lost a lot of its operations, including maternity, which eventually was assigned to Langley AFB, Ali said.

The Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was inactive in 1974 and women were fully integrated into male units. By 1978, WAC dissolved into full integration in the Army.

On a map of Fort Monroe during the time of Reconstruction after the Civil War, Fort Monroe archivist Ali Kolleda points out where the Post Hospital and matrons' quarters were upon entering the fort's main gate.
On a map of Fort Monroe during the time of Reconstruction after the Civil War, Fort Monroe archivist Ali Kolleda points out where the Post Hospital and matrons’ quarters were upon entering the fort’s main gate.

Birth of occupational and physical therapy

Occupational and physical therapists also come out of WWI, then called reconstruction aides.

Near where the Hampton VA Hospital now stands was once the National Home for Disabled Volunteers, Ali said. It was a place for draftees to go to receive support for their “war neuroses.”

They were “asylum style hospitals; full-functioning communities for medical care,” though the underlying causes of mental health weren’t addressed at the time.

When the Army needed a demarcation hospital, it requisitioned the Hampton National Home and the veterans shifted to other hospitals in the U.S. Eventually it became General Hospital No. 43, which was geared toward mental health, shellshock and war neuroses, Ali said, to fulfill President Woodrow Wilson’s push to return soldiers to being “productive members of society.”

Reconstruction Aide Lois Clifford, pictured in the Pittsburgh Daily Post on Dec. 26, 1919. Clifford published manuels, such as on weaving, as part of occupational therapy training. (Photo courtesy of Fort Monroe.)
Reconstruction Aide Lois Clifford, pictured in the Pittsburgh Daily Post on Dec. 26, 1919. Clifford published manuels, such as on weaving, as part of occupational therapy training. (Photo courtesy of Fort Monroe.)

They added reconstruction aides, who were women trained privately through a hospital program and instituted programs to rehabilitate soldiers physically and mentally.

“It becomes the premiere neuro psychiatric facility of the Army” in Hampton, Ali said, and there were other locations.

One of the techniques the reconstruction aides used was weaving to help soldiers handle anxiety by occupying the mind. Programs were instituted and research was done that contributed to the occupational therapy program.

Occupational therapist Lois Clifford was assigned here in 1919 for the neuro-psychiatric hospital. She was trained occupational therapist and worked with soldiers with war neuroses. She was discharged from the Army with a “mental breakdown,” she calls it, and took time off for her recovery.

Clifford published a book on card weaving in 1947 and spent most of her life after her breakdown as occupational director at West PA School of the Blind.

The therapists fell under the Army medical department; no separate entity was created for reconstruction aides.

Virginia Health Services offers rehabilitation in its skilled nursing center units and outpatient physical, occupational and speech therapy. We recognize the important work women did as reconstruction aides to lay the groundwork for that field.

Meet our recreational therapy team during Activity Professionals Week

We are celebrating National Activity Professionals Week (Jan. 22-26) 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. Events and activities cater to residents’ tastes and activity directors receive residents’ input. The programs help residents exercise their cognitive, sensory and motor skills, and provide social settings for engagement multiple times a day.

Activity directors also drive employee engagement within their communities, helping with team-centered events and activities to bolster morale and provide stress relief.

It’s not just fun and games! As our Activity Directors describe in their Q&As below, they are an integral part of care planning for residents, with charting and assessments as part of their daily duties.

Meet our Activity Directors:

The Hamilton Assisted Living

Kirstie Saunders | Activity Director

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

Years with Virginia Health Services: 2 years in March.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? As a teen I attended church camp in Lynchburg. We had to choose somewhere to volunteer in the community and I chose the nursing home and loved it! I also have family in healthcare who helped guide me along the way and support me in my career.

How do you support the community’s team and residents? I like to help make it feel like home. I listen to resident and team ideas and brainstorm to make things come to life. The motto “Love where you live and love where you work” is what I strive for, both for the residents and our team.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? That I drive the bus!

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? First and foremost, the residents. They enjoy trying new things so I enjoy brainstorming with other professionals, finding ideas from Pinterest and Instagram, and implementing them into our community.

What types of activities do your residents enjoy most? Our residents enjoy quilting class, trips (including virtual), tea parties and live entertainment.

Personal details: I have been married for 19 years and have a son and two Australian Shepard dogs. I enjoy boating, beaching and fishing with my family.


The Huntington Assisted Living

Devyn Hotop | Activity Director

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

Years with Virginia Health Services: About two years. (I started as a CNA with VHS from the apprenticeship program.)

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? During my time as a CAN, one of my favorite things to do was watch the residents engage in the various activities that were provided. I loved seeing the residents happy and I knew this position would be the perfect way to express my creativity while helping others!

How do you support the community’s team and residents? I am always helping out staff members whenever I can! I also make sure the residents know that I am here for them, and that my office is always open if they just want to hang out or want someone to talk to. 

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The versatility of the job. I drive the bus, do manicures, lead exercises, referee games, teach crafts, host socials. There is a lot that goes into this job.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? I rely on Pinterest and Facebook groups to find inspiration. I am always finding unique and fun things to do with the residents. I also bring up activity ideas to residents to get their opinion on it, and I let them have the opportunity to make their own suggestions.

What types of activities do your residents enjoy most? They love activities that keep their minds busy. Bingo is the most popular, and they recently have taken to new card games I have introduced to them.

Personal details: I like to stay busy inside and outside of work! In my free time I like to thrift, paint, fish and visit parks with my adorable (and very spoiled) Australian Shepherd.


Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Shawntez Hill | Activity Director

Coliseum activity director Shawn Hill.
Coliseum activity director Shawn Hill.

I have been the activity director at Coliseum since June 2023, and I have been with VHS for two years starting in the CNA apprenticeship program. I always had a great passion for helping seniors because I started out in home health care in 2016 and worked with private clients over the years. That’s what make me join the team as a CNA in April 2022. I became the Apprentice of the Year and joined the recreational therapy team in November 2022.

We have a good time at Coliseum! I believe if you have breath and strength in your body, that’s all that counts! I always tell our residents to look at each day as if it’s a party and they love it. It keeps them going with a smile on their face. The most important activity is Bingo, they take that game very seriously and you better have their prize at the end or you won’t hear the end. It’s just a blessing to see how little things can make them happy.

Other things I do outside of work is an annual Back to School Drive (for the past seven years) and a holiday help drive at Christmas to help families in need. Thanks to Virginia Health Services for helping me the last two years; I greatly appreciate it. My goal is to let each resident live their best life and be happy with no regrets.

Aida Davila | Assistant Activity Director

Coliseum assistant activity director Aida Davila
Coliseum assistant activity director Aida Davila

I started my career as a recreation therapy assistant/supervisor at the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington in Maryland, where I worked for 6.5 years before transferring to front desk security. When I moved to Virginia to live with my mother younger sister passed away, recreation therapy was the career path I wanted to continue. I enjoy providing activities for the residents and fellow team members. I love to see the smiles on my residents’ faces when they enjoy a program. Our residents at Coliseum really enjoy the parties Shawn and I throw, trivia and “you be the judge.” It exercises their minds and often triggers nostalgic memories.


James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Shawn Hanberry | Activity Director

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

Years with Virginia Health Services: 7 years, 9 months.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? My mother, a retired LPN who worked in long-term care for 35 years, encouraged me and I have been connected to it since my years of volunteering at Bayside of Poquoson and Dominion Village of Poquoson.

How do you support the community’s team and residents? Through respect, high energy and positive attitude.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The amount of charting that includes progress notes, care plans, participation records and various assessments.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? My residents and their ideas.

What types of activities do your residents enjoy most? Our residents enjoy Bingo, Jackpot, Car Racing, Main Street Market and parties.

Personal details: I am a native of the Peninsula, mainly in Poquoson where I grew up and currently live. I enjoy road trips, trying new foods and visiting historical places and towns.


Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Amber Watson | Activity Director

Lancashire activity director Amber Watson.
Lancashire activity director Amber Watson.

Years with Virginia Health Services: 1 year, 3 months.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? I have always had a big heart for the elderly. I became a CNA and worked private cases and in nursing homes for six years until the pandemic. At that time, I decided to stay home with my kids. When my kids returned to school, I returned to work, searching for activity director openings. I thought, “how cool and fun it would be to do fun things with the aging population and keep them active?”

How do you support the community’s team and residents? I love supporting my Team Members! I always lend a hand to my work family to help in any way, shape or form.

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

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? I have five kids and they love to help with activity ideas for the Residents. I also get ideas from activity connection, Pinterest, and from the Residents themselves.

What types of activities do your residents enjoy most? My residents are very hands on! Any activity that involves everyone having a good time, enjoying themselves, best believe they will be there. They really love arts and crafts, and socials.

Personal details: I am 31 years old. My husband and I have been together for almost 15 years and we have five beautiful kids (three girls and two boys, ages 2, 6, 8, 11 and 14). We have a 1-year old lab named Milo, who keeps us on our toes. We have lived in the Topping area for almost two years.


The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Jamel DeCosta | Activity Director

The Newport activity director Jamel DeCosta

Years with Virginia Health Services: 3 years.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? I’ve always enjoyed the elderly. I guess it’s due to being raised by my grandmother.

How do you support the community’s team and residents? Pitching in where ever needed.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The relationships between the staff and residents.

What types of activities do your residents enjoy most? Bingo, painting and cornhole.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? Friends and family, especially my 10-year-old grandson.

Personal details: I am a mother of two and grandmother of four. I enjoy entertaining, crafting, decorating and shopping.


Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Erica Donaldson | Activity Director

Northampton activity director Erica Donaldson started the position this month. She was a CNA at Northampton for 23 years.

Years with Virginia Health Services: 23 years (as a CNA until this transition to activity director in January).

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? This is something different after my years as a CNA and an opportunity to challenge myself.

How do you support the community’s team and residents? I bring new ideas to the table.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? More energetic to the facility for residents and team members.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? From former activity director Charlene Craig (now a Resident Navigator at Northampton), other team members and Pinterest.

What types of activities do your Residents enjoy most? Bingo, Get Fit class, and church.

Personal details: I have two sons (one who lives in Pittsburgh). I am a Steelers fan! I have four grandchildren and a new person in my life. I’m staying positive and enjoying life!


Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Julie Boothe | Activity Director

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

I have been in the activity field for 29 years and had the pleasure of spending those years with Virginia Health Services. I accepted a job after spending three years volunteering with a local elementary school. Thanks to having a caring soul, I feel right in to this career. I love outdoor activities of most kinds and taking care of my animals and pets at home. I am truly blessed to have my husband for 43 years, sons, daughter, mother, sisters, grandchildren and friends. They all mean the world to me.

Walter Reed has a fantastic volunteer base and community that helps meet the needs of our residents through the activity department. We provide daily activities for the residents and make sure they have the materials they need for independent activities. Our residents tell us what they like to do and we make it happen. This includes entertainment coming into the facility and us going out in the community.  We love all our volunteers. They are very special people.

Activity directors work 24/7. Many times, we have to drop what they are doing to attend to something else and pick up where we left off later. We definitely have to multitask and be very organized. A big part of the job is finding activities (which can pop in your head any time of the day), scheduling activities, individualizing a program for each resident and being there to listen when need be. A big thanks to my assistants for all their hard work and dedication. Activity and other staff build tight bonds with residents and care for them dearly.

Activity ideas come from a lot of places. The resident requests are the first, then we use Internet, TV, magazines and imagination. Activities are provided to give them the opportunity to have fun, laugh, feel good and fill their phyco-social needs. They love bingo, pet therapy, Wii games, church, bible studies, crafts, music, in the kitchen, outings and more. There is nothing like dunking your administrator in a dunk booth.  The residents had a blast.  Thank you for participating, Bryant. We have a great team here.

On a personal note, I wish to thanks all the staff, volunteers, and VHS growing with me for year to year. It takes a team to meet the needs of over 100 people. Thank you for your understanding, caring and support. Working here is not a job but an extended family.

Jennifer Caldwell | Assistant Activity Director

Walter Reed assistant activity director Jennifer Caldwell.
Walter Reed assistant activity director Jennifer Caldwell.

Years with Virginia Health Services: 1 year.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? I’ve always enjoyed the elderly, and being able to plan activities. Putting a smile on residents’ faces daily is something I knew I would be good at.

How do you support the community’s team and Residents?  By always being attentive to my residents and team.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The relationships between the residents and staff.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? Pinterest and Residents. I am always asking residents for suggestions – it might be something we have done before that they enjoyed or something new they want to do.

What types of activities do your Residents enjoy most? Bingo, music and any food activity. 

Personal details: I enjoy being with family, friends and going on vacations. I love going on cruises.

Stephanie Williams | Assistant Activity Director (Memory Care)

Walter Reed assistant activity director for memory care Stephanie Williams.
Walter Reed assistant activity director for memory care Stephanie Williams.

Years with Virginia Health Services: 1 year, 9 months.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? I started doing activities voluntarily at my previous job and thoroughly enjoyed working with the residents and seeing them enjoy it also.

How do you support the community’s team and Residents? I help anyway I can that they need.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? Working on a memory care unit you have a wide range of cognitive abilities to balance out, especially to offer an activity that is inclusive. A lot of people don’t know how to deal with somebody with dementia or Alzheimer’s, and really it’s just a little patience and getting to see what their interests are.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? Research but also seeing what they like to do or new things that work. I can put together different activities based on those.

What types of activities do your Residents enjoy most? They like the physical activities but they also like to read and love to listen to music, and dance and sing.

Personal details: I enjoy coming in and spending the day with my residents every day. Outside of the busy work day I spend a lot of time with my family and three animals.


York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Mary Garrity | Activity Director

York activity director Mary Garrity
York activity director Mary Garrity.

Years with Virginia Health Services: 7 years (in March).

What drew you to a career in recreation services in long-term care? The elderly always had a place in my heart. I started my career at a senior center 20-plus years ago and have worked in several long-term facilities. I love to see the Residents happy and smiling, I love to challenge the residents with word games and trivia, and I love to see the residents dancing and singing.

How do you support the center’s team and residents? I support the team by helping wherever I can, having dress-down days, games and contests for the staff and Residents. We have become family and do whatever they need or want.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? Of all the many hats we wear, we help by serving meals, getting water for the residents, being a good listener … all the little things that residents need, including decorating for Christmas and other holidays.

Where do you find ideas/inspiration for activities? From the residents’ likes and dislikes. Every facility is different and has different cultures. I use online resources like Activity Connection and share ideas with other activity professionals.

Personal details: I love going to the beach, reading, interior decorating and furniture restoration.


The Arbors Independent Living

Quianna | Life Enrichment Director

Years with Virginia Health Services: 1 year.

What drew you to a career in recreation services in senior living? I was always interested in being around seniors. It wasn’t until two years ago while I was in California, I was filling in for our activity director and I just thought her job was so fun and exciting. Being able to plan and execute daily activities for residents was definitely something I knew I would be great at doing.

How do you support the community’s team and residents? By always being attentive to my team and residents, and always being a team player.

Where do you find ideas/inspirations for activities? First and foremost, from my residents. If you just sit and talk with them for a little, you will discover a lot from them. I also get inspirations from Facebook groups and Pinterest.

What type of activities do your residents enjoy the most? My residents really enjoy crafting, painting, trivia and Bingo!

Personal details: Being an activity director and being able to implement programs on the calendar is more than just that. I am up close and personal with the residents. They confide in me and they count on me to do a great job in making their lives more enjoyable and fun. The bonds that I have created while being in this position is more than I could ask for. The smiles and joy on my residents’ faces after a program, the “thank you” and the “great job Quianna” makes everything I do worth it.


Help the team

Our activity directors are always in need of volunteers to assist with events and activities or provide entertainment and social interaction. Visit vahs.com to submit a request to volunteer.

VHS celebrates CNA Week

The week of June 15-21 is designated by the National Association of Healthcare Assistants as CNA Week. This year’s theme is “We’re Unstoppable.” We know the team of Nursing Assistants and Certified Nurse Aides (CNAs) at Virginia Health Services is unstoppable.

We have a range of CNAs, from veterans to those who will graduate from our apprenticeship program to Nurse Aides on June 22. Our CNAs are the eyes and ears of the clinical team at our communities, spending time with the residents and patients. They provide personal care to assist residents in getting ready for the day and aide in all forms of activities of daily life. CNAs build personal relationships with the individuals in their care.

To celebrate this year, we are featuring four CNAs who have come up through VHS’s apprenticeship program in the past two years.

Our team members fell in love with the job because of the residents. And it all started with the team of instructors for our apprenticeship program, Director of Education Princess Henderson, RN, BSN and instructor Nora Gillespie, RN.

The six-week earn-as-you-learn apprenticeship program graduates Care Assistants to Nurse Aides and covers the cost of the state certification exam to be a CNA. Apprentices are then employed at our seven nursing and rehabilitation centers.

Three of our featured apprentices graduated from the program about a year ago. Another was in our third graduating class and spent over a year as a CNA before transitioning to activity director of The Huntington Assisted Living. She still works CNA shifts.

Here are their stories.

Devyn Hotop, The Huntington/The Newport

Devyn Hotop considered nursing after graduating from high school, but wanted to attain nurse aide certification to test the waters. She says the apprenticeship – she graduated in the July 2021 class – gave her the foundation she needed and she “really, really liked it.”

She passed her exam on the first try and worked for more than a year as a CNA at The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Devyn said she always saw the residents having a good time during recreational therapy and when the activity director job opened at The Huntington Assisted Living, she knew she wanted to do it.

“I love this job so much. You develop a lot of one-on-one personal relationships. It keeps you busy, which I like. It’s rewarding knowing you are doing something for them,” she says.

She also picks up CNA shifts at The Newport to be hands-on in patient care.

The Huntington activity director Devyn Hotop graduated in the third apprenticeship class. She still picks up CNA shifts at The Newport.
The Huntington activity director Devyn Hotop graduated in the third apprenticeship class. She still picks up CNA shifts at The Newport.

“In this role, I’ve had so many people help out with stuff. My teammates are always helping me and they always listen. That means a lot. Even in as a CNA, I know I’m coming in to work with people who will help me,” she says.

Devyn says she uses everything she learned during the apprenticeship.

“The class has great teachers,” she says. “Everyone at VHS has been such a good mentor and there’s a lot of support through it all. The class is overwhelming, but worth it in the end.”

CNAs are vital – “they glue down everything,” she says. “They do so much for the residents and provide so much care and spend the most time with them. They know before anyone else if something is off or wrong.”

Anjil Hicks, Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Anjil was the valedictorian of her class that graduated in September 2022. She passed her certification exam on the first try.

She comes from a family of nurses and CNAs. She says listening to her family’s stories encouraged her to go into healthcare as well.

“I’ve always been a caring person, genuine. So I wanted to be a CNA, but I didn’t have the money to pay for the class. This was perfect,” she says of the apprenticeship.

Anjil Hicks was the valedictorian of her apprenticeship class and is a CNA at Northampton.
Anjil Hicks was the valedictorian of her apprenticeship class and is a CNA at Northampton.

Anjil says the team at Northampton “is amazing” and is supportive.

“I love my residents. I love helping to take care of them,” she says. “I love my team. Even from outside (the clinical staff), the administration is just so nice and supportive if you need it. This community, I love it.”

She says her foundation came from the apprenticeship class.

“The instructors are the best teachers ever,” she says. “They always made sure we understood the material before we moved on to something new.”

Anjil says she is considering going back to school to be a RN. She knows the team at Northampton will have her back when she does.

Jazmine Martin, York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Jazmine was working as a patient care aide when she noticed how CNAs interacted with residents and the nursing team.

“I wanted to do more and I looked up CNA classes and saw the one offered by VHS,” she says.

She graduated the class in September 2022. Jazmine says the job is “always a learning experience – there’s always something new.” She gets support and guidance by her teammates at York and The Hamilton Assisted Living.

Jazmine Martin is a CNA at York.
Jazmine Martin is a CNA at York.

She says she was drawn to senior care after seeing how much help her grandparents needed as they aged.

“I just fell in love with older people,” she says.

Jazmine plans to enroll at ECPI to gain her RN license.

“My son makes me want to continue on. I want to push myself to do more for myself and him,” she says.

Her advice to new apprentices: “Always put the residents first. They can tell you, if they’re able to, but put their thoughts in mind. They know when you are around.”

Laurinda Palmer-Yearby, James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Laurinda – she’s called Palmer on the floor – completed the CNA class in February 2022. She’s primarily been on the Warwick unit at James River since graduation.

She worked as a CNA while living in New York City and went through the apprenticeship class to get certified after moving to Virginia. There are different rules and regulations each state follows.

“I was always going to be a CNA,” she says. “My mother, sister and aunt are nurses. My grandmother was a CNA. My family has a lot of nurses and doctors in it and I was always going to be in healthcare.”

She and her apprenticeship classmates remain tight, texting one another to keep in touch. She also likes working at James River.

Laurinda Palmer-Yearby was a CNA in New York before moving to Virginia where she had to be recertified.
Laurinda Palmer-Yearby is a CNA at James River. She comes from a family of nurses and doctors and knew her career path would be in healthcare.

“I like there to be camaraderie on the floor. If I ask questions here, I’ll get an answer the best I can. Most of the time we do pretty good. We learn from one another,” she says.

She is back in school at Virginia Peninsula Community College (formerly Thomas Nelson) to be a patient care tech, which is an advanced-level CNA. Laurinda says you learn more about how to evaluate a patient, like therapy does. She plans to have it completed by the end of the summer.

“Being a CNA is a little more personable. In a hospital, you don’t get to know the patients. … You don’t come here looking for a relationship with anybody, but you realize they really enjoy having you around to talk to them and to have you help them get ready for the day and attend activities,” she says.

“I love the energy the residents have to give.”

Join our team

Our applications for the apprenticeship program are available at vahs.com/apprenticeship. We also have openings for CNAs at all of our nursing and rehabilitation centers and for our home and community-based services. Visit vahs.com/careers for more.

In their words: VHS residents share life stories for Skilled Nursing Care Week

It’s National Skilled Nursing Care Week (May 14-20)! 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

James Genus – or as we like to call him, Mr. G – has been at Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center since February 2021. He never misses an activity and always waves hello.

James Genus
Mr. G’s son plays in the SNL Band.

Originally from Rockville, Maryland, Mr. G was stationed at Fort Eustis after returning from flying for the Army in Vietnam. He served as a flight engineer for seven years in the Army, leaving as an E-5 in 1966.

It was while he was stationed at Fort Eustis that he met his wife. Even after struggling to find a job “as a Black man” in the area, they didn’t leave.

Instead he opened his own string of businesses, including a portable cleaning service.

“I learned I could make more money doing that than something in aviation (at that time),” he says.

Mr. G’s businesses brought in a lot of money and at its peak employed 40. His janitorial and environmental services businesses spanned several states, including Delaware and North Carolina, and they had contracts with several small colleges, he said.

“I never got a big head. Because it comes but you got a partner, and that partner’s the government. … I always stayed low-key, and I teach my son the same thing. He thanks me all the time,” he says.

Mr. G’s success translated to his son, also named James, though in a far different path. His son has played bass with the Saturday Night Live Band for about 20 years, and is also a freelance musician who has toured the world with Herbie Hancock.

He lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children. Also in Connecticut is Mr. G’s wife of 57 years, being cared for in a nursing home there following a stroke.

Mr. G has been to see his son perform on the set of “SNL” many times, he says, but couldn’t quite pinpoint a favorite host.

“I don’t know (who my favorite host was),” he says. “I was just there to see him.”

Making move from Middlesex to Hampton

Until Rosaline Burrell moved into Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in August 2022, the only place she lived was Middlesex County.

Rosaline Burrell and her daughter Patricia
Rosaline Burrell and her daughter Patricia

She is now closer to her daughter, who lives in Hampton and comes to visit her daily.

She is 94 years old and has survived her husband and three of five children. One of her sons who passed away was her caregiver.

Rosaline and her husband were together for more than 70 years. He passed away in 2011 at age 93. She has three grandchildren. She worked alongside her husband, handling the finances of their landscape business for about 65 years before either retired.

“This was a big transition for her to leave her home and come here,” says her daughter Patricia. “We’ve not been back (to the Middlesex house).”

Rosaline enjoys the activities at Coliseum – she was looking forward to manicures this particular afternoon – and gets along well with her current roommate. She also enjoys watching TV – her favorite program is “Little House on the Prairie.”

She says “the help of the Lord” keeps her going.

Family life

Rosaline and Patricia know loss. Rosaline’s oldest son went missing without a trace from West Point 45 years ago.

Two sons passed away within months of one another.

“I wasn’t able to be there. (Patricia) took on everything about what was going on. She by both their sides when they died,” Rosaline said.

“God give her strength to do what she’s doing for me now.”

In addition to visits from Patricia, Rosaline has family who keep up with her, including a younger sister. She has frequent visitors and folks who keep in touch with her, including from the church in Middlesex.

James River

Doris Scott has been in long-term care at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for about 20 years.

Doris Scott has been at James River for about 20 years.
Doris Scott has been at James River for about 20 years.

“I’ve enjoyed myself so far. Not a dull moment,” she says, citing the robust activities calendar for keeping her active.

“You don’t do the same thing every day. It’s up to you if you want to enjoy it.”

She likes the church services, flower club on Fridays where the Residents arrange flowers with the Newport News Master Gardeners, and bingo. She has seek-and-find puzzles she enjoys doing between activities.

Doris was born and raised in Newport News, in the Newsome Park area. She and her mother moved farther north and she graduated from Carver High School.

“This is my home and this always will be my home,” she says.

She has a sister in Hanover who visits every other month. Occasionally Doris will spend a weekend with her “in the country.”

Lancashire

Patricia Davenport became a Resident of Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in August 2022, when she could no longer live independently.

“I like the people here,” she says, “but I miss my apartment and my cat. She’ll be 16 in October.”

She had a series of falls and hospital stays that have left her in physical therapy at Lancashire gaining her steadiness and ability to walk without a walker or wheelchair.

“They do very good here; I have no complaints,” she says.

Patricia Davenport has a stuffed kitty on her bed.
Patricia Davenport has a stuffed kitty on her bed.

Patricia has family who lives nearby, including two sisters. Another sister lives in Louisa.

She has a step-daughter in Florida, who is raising her step-great-granddaughters, and a stepson who lives in Texas. One of her sisters and brother-in-law are looking after her treasured cat Buttercup.

“I wouldn’t give her away to just anybody,” Patricia says with a smile. “I haven’t seen my cat since July of last year. I miss her so much.”

She keeps a stuffed kitty named Bella on her bed, and there are several photos of Buttercup in her room.

Lancaster County native

Patricia and her family are from Lancaster County, growing up in Bertrand.

Before moving to Richmond following her first marriage, Patricia worked in housekeeping at Lancashire. She returned to Kilmarnock to care for her mother in 2010 and stayed with her until her passing in 2018.

“When mom passed, the house was too big for me to live there by myself,” she says. She moved into an apartment that fall; her sister’s family and Buttercup occupy the family home now.

“I loved my apartment; I didn’t want to leave it.”

She worked in department stores, including Kmart and Kohl’s, and in a warehouse assembling hospital equipment, before returning to Kilmarnock where she worked in a now-closed department store’s catalog department.

“I enjoyed being around people. I loved in the catalog what to do. The people I worked for were real good to me,” she says. “I loved all the jobs I’ve had.”

Stylist living life at Lancashire

Ray Meyers moved to Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center about eight months ago. His sight is worsening due to a previous trauma and macular degeneration. Ray said he could no longer care for his Kilmarnock home alone, so he sold it and most of his possessions, gave away his dog and cat and moved to Lancashire, which is near his sister and her family.

Ray Meyers took as much of his life as would fit in his room when he moved to Lancashire about eight months ago.
Ray Meyers took as much of his life as would fit in his room when he moved to Lancashire about eight months ago.

“You bring what you can and sell the rest,” he says. “Overall, I’ve got three hots and a cot. The people here are fair.”

He enjoys the people at Lancashire and likes to kid around with the team to get them smiling and laughing.

“I don’t know of anybody who has lived a more fun life than I have,” Ray says.

Living the life

Since 1964 until his sight started to go, Ray cut hair.

“I was pretty good. I had the first unisex hair styling salon in Virginia. … I stole the idea. Guy (in Pennsylvania) had a great idea and didn’t know how to promote it,” he says.

He learned how to shampoo, cut and style hair, massage the scalp and be a nail technician. He trained his in entire team wherever he set up shop, which included northern Virginia.

“I went through quite a few dollars learning how to do a Farrah Fawcett haircut, a Dorothy Hamill haircut. We had to go through a lot of training to do these styles,” he says.

Ray also was a drummer.

He was married once for five years and engaged “four times with one ring.”

“I dated a lot of girls … but it was never so much about the catch as it was about the chase,” he says with a smile.

He lived in Alexandria while Vietnam was going on.

“I was prepared to go. My father was in the Marines, stepfather was in the Battle of the Bulge and brother was Army special forces, but as an asthmatic, they wouldn’t take me,” he says.

He moved to Kilmarnock in 2004 and started a business cutting hair. He’s originally from Shenandoah.

A trauma while he was robbed at gunpoint in his home led to some of the onset of his blindness.

He enjoyed hunting and fishing once he moved to Northern Neck.

Northampton

Marie Collins, who will be 99 in August, has been a Resident at Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center since February 2020. 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).

Marie Collins
Marie Collins was a senior model.

“I love it here,” she says. “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 come visit about once a month when she goes to the doctor. They’re her remaining living family.

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.

Walter Reed

The energy from Andre Hughes’ room radiates down the hall. Walter Reed team members and Residents wave or stop in to chat when they walk by.

She maintains several plants and has brightly patterned quilts on the walls.

“I enjoy taking care of them,” Andre says of the plants. “They’re good for me – they’re good for everyone. Plants are therapy for me. They are full of life and there’s so much darkness these days, I can watch these grow and thrive.”

Andre Hughes

Andre has been a Resident of Walter Reed for about 7 years. She’s found love and marriage while there. She’s made friends. And she’s recovered from the fall that landed her here, learning to walk and write again.

“These people are my family and this is my home,” she says. “I knew eventually I’d end up here. … And I think the Lord wants me here. I still have a lot of work to do.

“There are folks in here, where all you have to do is hold their hand and their face lights up. That’s a blessing for me. So the Lord is helping me help others … My faith has carried me.”

Born in France

“I am a product of World War II,” she says.

Andre was born in France. Her father, an American, had been stationed there and met her mother, whose family owned a café in which she worked. They were married and when he resettled in the U.S., Andre, her mother and two siblings joined him.

She was a physical therapy aide – “that was my last job. When I was very young, I worked for a radio station and the telephone company.”

Wedding at Walter Reed

While a series of events have left her without family, she has made a home at Walter Reed, including meeting her late husband.

“I’m friendly with everyone,” she says. “I met a wonderful man in here. We were married in here. They had the ceremony in the dining room – it looked like a winter wonderland.

“I knew he was very ill, but we wanted to be married in the eyes of the Lord. A minister performed the ceremony. The team and volunteers pooled money to get out marriage license. It was a joyous occasion. He’s in heaven now, waiting on me.”

They were married nine weeks. James passed away five years ago.

“He blessed me so much by putting James in my life. In here. I get blessed and I get blessed,” she says.

Love where you live

She is thankful for the team at Walter Reed, not only for helping plan a lovely wedding, but also for keeping the Residents active and engaged.

“I have an abundance of friends. (Recreational directors) Julie and Jennifer are the ones that hold this place together. They go shopping for us each week. They’ll help me find something to order online. They’re absolutely gifted in their personalities,” Andre says.

“It’s a good place to be. Right now, I can’t complain about my life because I know the Lord is leading me and guiding me.”

‘From the ashes, you can rise’

Mona Dennis started calling Walter Reed home since August 2022. She had to move from the assisted living she was at when the complex changed its business model.

She remembered how well she liked being at Walter Reed during a skilled stint in 2021 after having back surgery.

Mona Dennis

“I liked it very much. The nursing staff, everybody was so nice. I took an opportunity to come over here and here I am!” she says.

She had a very positive rehab experience at Walter Reed. But she says not much can be done for her back – she has spinal stenosis.

Mona has a walker that better fits her tall frame.

“It’s nice for tall people without having to bend over. It enables you to stand up straight. For me, it’s nice because as soon as I take hold, the pain stops,” she says. “It supports the spine and is a great relief for avoiding the pain.”

Loving her new home

“I’m 77 years old – I still have so much left,” Mona says.

Since she’s able to get around the facility with the help of her walker, she visits with fellow Residents. She also is a fan of the community pets – particularly the rabbit and the fish.

“You’re going to find people in all stages here. … Try to talk with people, let them know somebody cares. They look lonesome sometimes. Mostly, they just want someone to sit there and listen. I’ll do that; I’ll stop and see people. They like to see the lady with the tall walker.”

Mona says the team at Walter Reed goes out of its way to plan activities and keep people smiling.

“One day they brought a horse in here! It was so exciting to see that little horse. … Also, I’m not a bingo lover, but I think it’s a good way to get out and see people. Go make somebody smile. That makes my day,” she says.

“I like to spread joy. And in here, it’s important. Just the human touch! What it does for people is amazing.”

Journey to Walter Reed

Mona’s husband passed away in 2016. While they didn’t have children, she has several nieces and nephews.

For a while, they didn’t know where she was. But once they did, they call her regularly.

Mona Dennis' tall walker
Mona Dennis loves her tall walker.

“My nephew called and said, ‘I want you to know that from this day on, we’ve got your back.’ … He said Aunt Mona, you were the best aunt anyone could imagine having. … I was as bad as they were! I would take them for the weekend and I’d take them roller skating or to an ice cream parlor. I guess those memories stick with you. So, he said, ‘now it’s our turn to take care of you.’”

“It just made me feel so warm. I gave them all my love because I didn’t have my own. I had a wonderful time with those kids.”

She is originally from New York. She met her second husband while in California with her father. Mona went to school to be a medical assistant.

“I was just coming out of a divorce and looking for what to do with my life and felt that was good for me. I like people. I like helping people, so it was good for me.”

She worked in doctors’ offices and in a hospital in Anaheim as an EKG tech in the emergency room.

“That was exciting work,” she says.

Now she looks out the window at the “majestic trees” and spreads joy to others at Walter Reed.

“I’m at the end of a long journey, I’m enjoying the hell out of myself!” she says.

“From the ashes, you can rise.”

York residents Alvera Sommers and Robert Owens
York residents Alvera Sommers and Robert Owens.

York

Sometimes you can find a forever friend even when you are 92.

Alvera Sommers and Robert Owens became fast friends after being introduced to one another through a social worker at York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center about two years ago.

Alvera was in an independent living community until she fell and fractured her hip about two years ago. She came to York for rehab around Christmas 2021.

She then injured her other hip, also rehabbing at York. It was then she met Bob, and as her daughter Pam tells it, “a spark flew and I couldn’t get her out of here.”

Bob was in therapy and was spending his first Christmas at York when Alvera moved in.

They both like living at York. The activities keep them going – and they’re always found together. They’ll occasionally dine together.

The two just smile at one another and keep each other in good spirits, laughing frequently when they are in a room together.

Pennsylvania native

Alvera and her family are from the Allentown area of Pennsylvania. They vacationed at Wildwood on the Jersey Shore.

Alvera was twice married with two children. Her son, who was in the Army, passed away.

Daughter Pam spent 12 years in the Air Force. She and her husband moved from Hawaii to Newport News when he was transferred to Fort Eustis. She was a nurse and retired as a civil servant from Eustis.

Alvera’s husband built her a beauty shop in their home, and she owned one in the town where they lived for years. She was a nurse and beautician.

Alvera and her late husband traveled extensively, seeing much of Europe, Israel and Egypt. They visited Pam while she was stationed in Greece.

“Isn’t she brave?” Alvera said of Pam’s service. “We were so proud when she said she wanted to go into the military.”

Pam and her husband have been married for 31 years. They have two children, a daughter who lives in Baltimore and a son who lives nearby and visits his grandmother frequently.

Alvera has a sister who lives in Pennsylvania who is 86. She occasionally visits her sister with Pam.

She likes adult coloring books, and Pam keeps her with a good supply. Pam visits her mother frequently, often volunteering during events at York.

Bob and Alvera with her daughter Pam at an art activity at York.
Bob and Alvera with her daughter Pam at an art activity at York.
Best friend

Bob has Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s and other ailments. He has been a bus driver, bookstore manager and worked at Walmart for 15 years. He found that keeping a few part-time jobs was better for his chronic disease management.

Bob is originally from Greensboro, N.C., finding his way to the area by way of northern Virginia, where he managed the student bookstore at J. Sargent Community College.

Thank you to our volunteers at Virginia Health Services!

We’re celebrating National Volunteer Week by highlighting our communities’ volunteers! Virginia Health Services thanks our volunteers for their time and dedication in supporting our team members and the individuals in our care to live their best life.

Coliseum

In any given month, Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center may host five or more church groups to provide services to the Residents. We’re highlighting two during National Volunteer Week.

Ebenezer Baptist Church has been coming to Coliseum for about 20 years, according to Deacon Charles Stevens Jr. Minister Tracey DeBrew with Restoration & Faith Kingdom Builders non-denominational organization also comes once a month. They both conduct services at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, in addition to others in the VHS family.

Members of the Ebenezer Baptist Church Missionary Outreach Ministry, including Deacon Charles Stevens Jr. (far right).
Members of the Ebenezer Baptist Church Missionary Outreach Ministry, including Deacon Charles Stevens Jr. (far right).

Deacon Charles joined Ebenezer in 1995 after retiring from the Air Force at Langley. He uses his military logistics background to coordinate the Missionary Outreach Ministry for the church. The group visits four nursing homes consistently each month. Sometimes the dance or puppet ministries also join them.

“This entire ministry just loves something that God has put on our hearts to do. No stopping now,” he says. “We’re doing what God has told us to do. We must go outside the church walls and carry the gospel to wherever we can go and be accepted. We’re really accepted at the nursing homes. A lot of the Residents are drawn to a church service.”

Minister Tracey was ordained in November.

Minister Tracey DeBrew visits Residents at Coliseum once a month and sometimes just stops by to chat with them.
Minister Tracey DeBrew visits Residents at Coliseum once a month and sometimes just stops by to chat with them.

“I felt I was to go out in the community,” she says. “I find it very heart-warming to be able to come out and talk to the Residents. A lot of them were constant churchgoers before they came here. … It’s a blessing, not only for me, but for them.”

She says she provides her phone number in case something happens or they need one-on-one prayer time.

“I will come and pray with the family, no matter the time of night, when someone is transitioning,” she says. “I will travel wherever it is needed.”

They both said Residents are receptive to services.

“I come in with a lot of energy and I have three other people with me. We put on music, we dance, we move. It gets exciting, it gets fun,” Minister Tracey says. “I love the Residents. Sometimes I’ll just come and visit them throughout the week. I listen to them. I’m accessible. I learn so much from these people.”

Adds Deacon Charles, “We get our enjoyment when God manifests in this place.”

Lancashire

Lancashire volunteer Joyce Taylor and two Residents enjoy a morning craft.
Lancashire volunteer Joyce Taylor and two Residents enjoy a morning craft.

Joyce Taylor couldn’t stop coming in to work. After spending 14 years in the dietary department at Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, she still can be found at the facility volunteering several times a week. She lives across the street and joins the Residents for activities such as crafts, Bingo and outings.

“I just love being with the Residents,” she says.

The Residents love having her nearby too.

The Hamilton

Gala Damato and her friend (and neighbor) Pam visit The Hamilton monthly to do a quilting activity with the Residents.
Gala Damato and her friend (and neighbor) Pam visit The Hamilton monthly to do a quilting activity with the Residents.

Gala Damato loves to quilt. And for the past year, she has been sharing her skill and time with the Residents at The Hamilton Assisted Living.

Pam and Gala work with the Residents on designing placemats in blues and greens.
Pam and Gala work with the Residents on designing placemats in blues and greens.

She comes from a family of quilters, including her mother and grandmother, and is in two guilds. She is the service project co-coordinator in one of the guilds.

“Quilters like to give back. … We just find places that will take them. A few of these ladies are quilters or were quilters,” she says.

She and her friend Pam come monthly and work with the Residents on different projects. It’s one of the best attended activities. The first time she visited, she says she brought a few quilts to talk about. It was so popular, activity director Kirstie Saunders suggested more hands-on visits.

The Residents designed placemats for their rooms as the March project. Some fabrics will help spur memories; other fabrics are colored themed to season, Gala says.

“If you have a talent to share, here’s the place,” Gala says. “My mother was in an assisted living in Oklahoma; she would have loved something like this.”

She and her husband moved to Hampton about 20 years when he was in the Air Force. He retired from Langley AFB in 2007. Gala says she substitute teaches and got serious about quilting in 2011.

The Huntington

Martha and Jerry Dodson have been fixtures in the volunteer community for more than 40 years.
Martha and Jerry Dodson have been fixtures in the volunteer community for more than 40 years.

Jerry and Martha Dodson volunteer almost daily in the community. One Monday a month, you’ll find them doing crafts with the Residents at The Huntington Assisted Living.

The Dodsons are no strangers to volunteering. They have been active in several organizations, including with Virginia Health Services communities, for more than 40 years.

They deliver Meals on Wheels and volunteer with their church, the Women’s Club of Hilton Village (Jerry’s an honorary member), an art studio, and on Saturdays are at the farmers market in Hilton Village handing out juice and crafts for kids.

During the holidays, they visit nursing homes and senior living communities dressed as Mr. and Mrs. Claus, distributing gifts and cards to the Residents. (Jerry also can be found in the spring as the Easter Bunny.)

Martha and Jerry Dodson help Huntington Residents with a spring craft during their April visit.
Martha and Jerry Dodson help Huntington Residents with a spring craft during their April visit.

They say volunteering gives them purpose.

“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 have 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 and connect with folks.”

Walter Reed

Ray Agtay has been a volunteer at Walter Reed for nearly 20 years.
Ray Agtay has been a volunteer at Walter Reed for nearly 20 years.
Ray Agtay helps Residents get around the facility for meals and activities.

Ray Agtay has been volunteering at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for almost 20 years – beginning shortly after he and his mother moved to Gloucester. A recognizable face around the facility, he completely has embraced the role of a team member in a volunteer capacity, coming three days a week.

“I just like helping people,” he says. “I like spending quality time with them.”

He helps mostly with activities and helping Residents get to and from their rooms around the facility. He helps with crafts and set up an audio/visual cart for Bingo so all the Residents can see and hear what’s being called.

“I love the people here,” he says. “The Residents and staff always commend me on my positivity and outlook. I don’t get paid, but I consider myself part of the staffing.”

Volunteer with VHS

All of Virginia Health Services’ communities are happy to accept volunteers.

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.

VHS Hospice also is looking for volunteers interested in assisting those in end-of-life care and their caregivers.

Contact the community nearest you to apply and discuss options with our team.

Volunteer locations

Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 305 Marcella Road, Hampton, Virginia 23666

Phone: 757-827-8953

Contact: Shawn Hill, Activities Director

The Hamilton Assisted Living

Address: 113 Battle Road, Yorktown, Virginia 23692

Phone number: 757-243-8559

Contact: Kirstie Saunders, Activities Director

The Huntington Assisted Living

Address: 11143 Warwick Blvd., Newport News, Virginia 23601

Phone: 757-223-0888

Contact: Devyn Hotop, Activity Director

James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 540 Aberthaw Ave., Newport News, Virginia 23601

Phone: 757-595-2273

Contact: Shawn Hanberry, Activity Director

Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 287 School St., Kilmarnock, Virginia 22482

Phone: 804-435-1684

Contact: Amber Watson, Activity Director

The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 11141 Warwick Blvd., Newport News, Virginia 23601

Phone: 757-595-3733

Contact: Jamel DeCosta, Activity Director

Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 1028 Topping Lane, Hampton, Virginia 23666

Phone: 757-826-4922

Contact: Charlene Craig, Activity Director

Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 7602 Meredith Drive, Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia 23061

Phone: 804-693-6503

Contact: Julie Boothe, Activity Director

York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Address: 113 Battle Road, Yorktown, Virginia 23692

Phone: 757-898-1491

Contact: Mary Garrity, Activity Director

VHS Hospice

Phone: 757-663-6276.

Contact: Ariane Minette, social work and volunteer coordinator

Virginia Health Services celebrates its long-term care administrators

It’s Long-Term Care Administrators Week!

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

Virginia Health Services celebrates our Administrators and Assistant 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 and Rehabilitation Center

Dudley Haas, Administrator

Portrait of Dudley Haas
Coliseum Administrator Dudley Haas.

Years with Virginia Health Services: 10 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 5 words or fewer? 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, Assistant Administrator

Coliseum Activity Director Haley Holland pictured on a mountaintop with her dog Millie.
Coliseum Activity Director Haley Holland often brings in her dog Millie, shown here, to provide pet therapy to Residents and team members.

Haley Holland is Assistant Administrator for Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Haley assists in supervising the operation of the facility. Prior to this role, she was a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, providing person-centered and innovative programs for the older adult population. Haley graduated from Longwood University with a bachelor’s in therapeutic recreation. Interacting with her grandpa who had dementia drew her to working in long term care and helping older adults live their most successful life. In her spare time, Haley enjoys spending time with her family and mini aussie exploring parks and walking trails. She is also an avid reader. Something that may surprise others about her job is how active and ever-changing working with older adults is. In five words or less, her job is best described as, “every day is different.”  Haley is passionate about working with older adults and helping them live their best and most independent life. 

Haley’s last day with us is March 31. She is helping transition our new Assistant Administrator, Aleisha Anderson.

Aleisha Anderson, Assistant Administrator

Coliseum Assistant Administrator Aleisha Anderson
Aleisha Anderson joined the Coliseum team this month.

Years/Months of service with Virginia Health Services: I am a new team member with Virginia Health Services.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? Since childhood, I have had a passion to help others and always knew I would have a career related to helping others within a community. I have been in the healthcare field for more than 10 years, expanding my abilities in dental, hospital, and most recently, within long-term care settings.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? How staff, residents and families work together to deliver a high quality of care.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility? I love to spend time with family and friends. The beach is my happy place. I have a passion to travel, love to decorate and event plan, and enjoy attending festivals.

James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Karl Keffer, Administrator

Karl Keffer headshot
James River Nursing & Rehabilitation Center Administrator Karl Keffer

Years/Months of service with Virginia Health Services: I started my career with VHS as an Administrator in Training in 1988. In 1989 I was the first administrator at Northampton. I left VHS in 1991. I returned to VHS as Administrator of James River in March 2022.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? I became interested in long-term care because I had wanted to have a career in healthcare administration after graduating college.

How would you describe your job in 5 words or fewer? My job is both challenging and rewarding.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility? I enjoy playing golf on the weekends.

Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Adam Harrison, Administrator

Portrait of Adam Harrison
Lancashire administrator Adam Harrison

Years/Months of service with Virginia Health Services: 7 months.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? I completed an Administrator-In-Training program following the completion of a graduate degree in healthcare administration.

How would you describe your job in 5 words or fewer? It’s give and take; rewarding. 

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? Behavioral health and its place in long-term care and being knowledgeable in applicable regulatory processes and working collaboratively with outside agencies to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all residents.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility? Tending to my animals. I live on a small farm. 

The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Stephen G. Berczek, Administrator

Stephen holding a fish
Stephen enjoys fishing and boating when he’s not at The Newport.

Years/Months of service with Virginia Health Services: Coming on 4 years.

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. I have always enjoyed helping others, especially the elderly.

How would you describe your job in 5 words or fewer? 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? Snowboarding, traveling, working on motorcycles/cars, hiking, boating, fishing.

Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Portrait of Nikki Clements
Nikki Clements at Northampton

Nikki Clements is coming up on two years 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. She recently announced she is leaving VHS at the end of March.

Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Bryant Hudgins, Administrator

Bryant Hudgins
Bryant Hudgins started as a Nurse Aide with VHS.

Years/Months of service with Virginia Health Services: 28 years.

What drew you to a career in long-term care?  I’ve always enjoyed helping others and as I turned older I unfortunately witnessed my grandparents and other older members of my family endure long, drawn-out illnesses. The more I become engaged in healthcare, I realized how long-term care would give me the opportunity to help others in need as they aged. Also, the security and stability a career in healthcare would guarantee.

How would you describe your job in 5 words or fewer?  A continuous evolution in healthcare.

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? How different every single day is. The duties of my job not only encompass the resident care and services but also physical plant and quality control of environment. It makes no single day ever the same.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility? I enjoy spending time with my family an am always out supporting youth sports. I recently completed my 10th year of coaching travel AAU basketball in 2022.

Amy Payne, Assistant Administrator

Portrait of Amy Payne
Amy joined the VHS team about a year ago.

Years/Months of service with Virginia Health Services: Almost a year (10 months).

What drew you to a career in long-term care? I started working as an LPN in long term care in 1996. I’ve worked in many medical environments including long term care, memory care, travel nursing, inpatient rehab (IPR), and general family practice. After receiving my EMBA degree in 2020, I pursued a position in the AIT program to continue working in the long-term care environment that I am very familiar with and passionate about.

How would you describe your job in 5 words or fewer? Sometimes overwhelming, always rewarding!

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The volume and diversity of duties completed daily, no two days are the same.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility? Anything outside, on the water, beach and boating, bonfires/campfires. I love spending time with my family and friends.

York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Elizabeth Cabusora, Administrator

Portrait of Elizabeth Cabusora
Elizabeth enjoys singing karaoke, sometimes with the Residents!

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 5 words or fewer? 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😊

Joel Batista, Assistant Administrator

Headshot of Joel Batista
Joel Batista is the Assistant Administrator at York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and The Hamilton Assisted Living.

Joel oversees to day-to-day operations of York. Before joining VHS, Joel served eight years in the U.S. Navy as a Submariner stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He worked on several projects with the Pearl Harbor survivors from World War II and was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal two times during his service in the Navy. He has a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration. Joel is married and has three children. He and his family love the beach and going to the pool.

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