James River DON shares wisdom from many years with VHS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The DON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words of wisdom

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

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

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

She also suggests being receptive to constructive criticism.

And she recommends the nursing staff listen to the CNAs.

“They know the Residents best,” she said.

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

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

“A happy staff makes happy care.”

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

VHS family

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

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

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

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

Join the team

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

Individualized patient care key for VHS Home Health Care nurse

Virginia Health Services is shining a light on our team members. We want to spotlight the roles our team members play to support individuals to live their best life and showcase the VHS culture. With National Nurses Day on Friday, we are spotlighting VHS Home Health Care nurse Tia Hunter.

Tia Hunter heard about VHS Home Health Care from a friend.

She had done some one-on-one visits with patients as a certified nurse assistant (CNA), but hadn’t conducted skilled visits.

A nurse since 2009 — she’s getting ready to take her boards after graduating RN school with Medical Careers Institute — Hunter said she trusted her friend’s suggestion to work together for VHS Home Health Care.

“I love it,” Hunter says of working as an LPN with VHS Home Health Care for the past year and a half.

“For me, I like having that one-on-one with the patient. I’m not rushed; I have that time to focus. And I’m reachable to them.”

Hunter said nurses see on average five to six patients a day.

Day in the life

Portrait of Tia Hunter, an African-American RN with VHS Home Health Care.
Tia Hunter has been a nurse with VHS Home Health Care for more than a year.

VHS Home Health Care serves the Peninsula, Gloucester and Southside. Hunter said where patients live factors into a day’s schedule to account for the travel time.

She said she always has been drawn to senior care.

“I just love them. I think they’re so cute. … My grandma passed and I wanted to know her so bad; I get that when I see my patients,” Hunter said.

The culture at VHS Home Health Care is patient-based.

“For me, I like having that one-on-one with the patient,” Hunter said. “I’m not rushed, I have that focus time, I’m reachable to them.”

Team effort

Working with patients in-home pairs physical, speech and occupational therapists from VHS Rehabilitation with the clinical team at VHS Home Health Care.

“I think it’s a great place to work,” Hunter said. “… We have a good staff. (The clinical team) communicates well with the therapists with VHS Rehab. It’s rare to find a team that blends this well as a whole.”

The team comes together under the leadership of Cheri Brnich, Kelly Cofield and Donna Marchant-Roof, who is the executive director of VHS Home Health Care and Hospice.

“I genuinely just love our management,” Hunter said of Brnich. “I’ve never really had a boss like Cheri. She genuinely cares about us and how we’re doing, are we OK, even outside of work. … It’s very rare you find a company that somebody cares about you as a person. She values us as employees.”

The team of nursing staff, therapists, social workers and other individuals develop a care plan to return an individual to their best life.

“Aha moments”

Hunter takes pride in the “aha moments” that get the individuals she works with back to where they want to be. As individuals usually see the same team of clinicians, if there is a change in status, it can be determined quickly.

“When we’re in the home, sometimes we can stop them from having something happen and could save their life,” she said.

Calls, Google reviews and hearty thank-yous stay with you long after the home health care period ends, Hunter said. “It’s so appreciated.”

The quality of care and consistency of the team is also appreciated.

“Going into a home, sometimes even just 45 minutes, it changes their whole day,” Hunter said. “They love it.”

Join our team

We are hiring full-time LPNs and a full-time RN for our VHS Home Health Care team. For a full list of opportunities, visit vahs.com/careers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Memory Care?

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

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

What it takes

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They eat so much better,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks says she is going to see her plans through.

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

Apply now

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

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

Get started today at vahs.com/careers.

TNAs get hands-on training before pairing with mentors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ambassador program

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transition to apprenticeship program

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

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

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

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

“It’s a win-win,” Nora said.

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

VHS celebrates our long-term care administrators

It’s Long-Term Care Administrators Week!

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

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

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

Coliseum Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

Coliseum Administrator Dudley Haas.

Dudley Haas, Administrator

Years with Virginia Health Services: 9 years.

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

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

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

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

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

James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Stephen Berczek
James River Assistant Administrator Stephen Berczek.

Stephen Berczek, Assistant Administrator

Years with Virginia Health Services: About 3.

What drew you to a career in long-term care? Started out in physical therapy as a tech for VHS and then branched off into the administrative roles.

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

What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The extensive workload.

What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? Snowboarding, riding motorcycles, traveling and golfing.

Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

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

The Newport Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Suzanne Williams
The Newport Administrator Suzanne Williams

Suzanne Williams, Administrator

Years with Virginia Health Services: 24 years.

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

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

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

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

Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Nikki Clements
Northampton Administrator Nikki Clements

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

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

Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Bryant Hudgins
Walter Reed Administrator Bryant Hudgins

Bryant Hudgins, Administrator

Years with Virginia Health Services: 25 years.

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Beck, Assistant Administrator

Years with Virginia Health Services: Less than a year.

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

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

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

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

York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Elizabeth Cabusora
York Administrator Elizabeth Cabusora

Elizabeth Cabusora, Administrator

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

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

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

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

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

Jordan Kay, Assistant Administrator

Jordan Kay
York Assistant Administrator Jordan Kay

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

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

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

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

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

VHS celebrates Healthcare Human Resources Week

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

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

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

Shaleena Brown, Human Resources Manager

Shaleena Brown
Human Resources Manager Shaleena Brown.

Time with Virginia Health Services: 1 year.

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

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

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

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

Personal tidbits: I am a homebody.

Michael Smith, HR Associate

HR Associate Michael Smith

Time with Virginia Health Services: 6 months.

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

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

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

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

Personal tidbits: Playing golf and spending time with family.

CFO Nikki Boldy celebrates 25 years with Virginia Health Services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about joining our team on our Careers page.