Peter Murphy Lewis, the host of Experience Care’s LTC Heroes podcast, has long been interested in the innovative thinking of the leadership team at Virginia Health Services (VHS).
He asked VHS President and CEO Mark Klyczek and Vice President of Strategy and Business Development Eric Gommel to share the story of how they teamed up at VHS on his show:
Strategy and Growth
When Lewis asked Gommel why he wanted to “join forces” with Klyczek, Gommel shared that he admired Klyczek’s leadership style, which he experienced working with Klyczek at a previous health system.
“He’s great at executing on initiatives, but he also approaches his work with a sense of humor,” Gommel said. “And that sort of management style really attracted me.”
The discussion shifted to why Klyczek created the role Gommel would later fill.
“I knew we had to reposition Virginia Health Services,” Klyczek told Lewis. He needed someone with the specific skill set and experience in data and analytics, as well as facilitating and executing on strategy, that Gommel possesses.
“What Eric’s been able to do is accelerate our growth and our strategic initiatives,” Klyczek said. “I can only do so much, but Eric is really able to take the ideas and things that we come up with together, and run with them, making sure that they’re executed.”
Sprints: Focusing on Key Strategic Initiatives
The podcast host was familiar with Sprints but had not heard of them in the context of long-term care before the interview.
Gommel said he faced a challenge in introducing the VHS strategic plan and initiatives that went with it. He and Klyczek began to focus on a smaller, more achievable number of initiatives.
“The idea was to break the strategic plan into digestible pieces,” Gommel said. “We started with an eight-week cycle and have moved to a quarterly cycle. We then tried to narrow down to less than 10 specific initiatives with measurable deliverables.”
Gommel said the initial strategic plan was introduced during leadership meetings. He and Klyczek listened to feedback from executives, narrowed the focus and shortened the time horizon.
“This isn’t some fancy thing that we had to buy or pay for,” Klyczek said of how he and Gommel communicate the plan and track its progress. “We just leveraged Excel. Every time we meet as a senior leadership team, everybody has to report on their initiatives.”
Gommel continues to develop new, exciting ideas with the leadership team that will guarantee Virginia Health Services’ future success as well.
“What really excites me is our future projects,” Gommel said. “Those include initiatives focused on workforce development and extending programs Mark and the team have put in place over the past year.”
This blog was written and provided by the content team at LTC Heroes.
Virginia Health Services is hiring for nurses at all levels. Join a team that takes pride in its employees and values the work of nurses. Read more about the available positions on the VHS Careers page.
Virginia Health Services thanks its nursing team for its dedication to the care for its patients and residents.
It’s like being in a private living room. Step off the elevator on the third floor at 1 p.m. Wednesdays and the knitters of The Arbors Independent Living are waiting to greet you warmly.
Especially if you are ready to pick up a needle and yarn.
The knitting club at The Arbors meets once a week, and when they get rolling, it’s 50-50 as to whether they’ll stop for a 2 p.m. activity or keep going.
The leader of the pack is Joyce, who taught knitting while she worked for the Village Stitchery in Newport News for 10 years.
She started knitting at age 9. “You know, you pick it up on and off,” she said.
But the title of fastest knitter, Joyce says, is 95-year-old Doris.
“I’m a fast lady,” she says with a grin.
There are typically about five or six women who gather to knit together and get advice on their projects from Joyce. The open sitting area has comfy furniture, a large window and two bookshelves with containers full of yarn and other knitting materials.
Joyce said they have been meeting for four years, since she moved into The Arbors.
Doris has been an Arbors resident for five years. She is making hats to be donated to Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters (CHKD).
During a recent meeting, Doris was redoing a child’s scarf to go with a hat she already made. She was unsatisfied with her first attempt and said she ripped the stitching apart to start over.
She learned to knit from her mother, who was “good at everything.”
Doris also can sew and embroider. But it was The Arbors group that drew her back into knitting.
“Joyce got me on it (at The Arbors),” Doris said, “taught me more stuff than I know.”
Teaching & Persistence
Doris said neither of her daughters knit. Joyce added her granddaughters do, but like it when she corrects their mistakes because “then I finish the row.”
She has been giving Pat tips on her afghan, which she has been working on for about a year.
“I’m persistent if nothings else,” Pat said. She found the perfect colors of yarn for it so it matches her apartment décor.
“I learned to knit and sew years ago and then took a break,” she said. The group at The Arbors drew her back into it.
Joyce recently made a blanket in bright pink yarn for her soon-to-be great-granddaughter.
There are about four to five consistent group members, though others will pop in, depending on what’s going on, Joyce said.
Doris added that it’s the people who keep her going. And activity director Ora Williams, who is learning to knit with the group.
“She has so much energy, she makes me have the energy,” Doris said.
Sometimes you find exactly what you’re looking for in a career, even later in life.
For Christine Brooks, an LPN at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, taking ownership in the care of the Residents on the Abingdon Memory Care unit made her realize even after 30 years in long-term care, you can grow into a different role.
“I never thought I’d be a charge nurse. I thought I’d be a floor nurse for the rest of my life, and I was cool with it,” she said. “After working in Memory Care, working with (the Residents) consistently and really getting to know them, and (the Walter Reed team) giving me the opportunity to do what I’ve been able to do here … I’m not going anywhere.”
When Abingdon opened, Brooks said she asked Walter Reed Director of Nursing Lana Ketch to be a part of it.
“I love Memory Care,” Brooks said. “I don’t know why.”
But she does. It’s clear in every sentence when she talks about the Residents.
Much of Brooks’ family has passed away, except for her children and brother. She says the Residents are her family.
“I just want the unit to feel like family,” she said.
It extends from the Residents and their families to the staff on the unit.
“We’re all in this together. We have to make the best of it, make it work. This is their home,” Brooks said.
Encouraging family to visit can sometimes be a challenge because it’s discouraging the Resident doesn’t remember who they are or that they visited.
“Just being there will make them happy even if they don’t quite know who you are,” she said. “You see that glimmer, even if it’s just for a second.”
What is Memory Care?
Residents live on secured Memory Care units to prevent wandering. They are memory-impaired, including having dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The units have private dining and relaxation areas. Abingdon also has a Snoozelen Room, which can be used for sensory therapy such as mood lighting and aroma therapy.
Walter Reed is recruiting team members for its Memory Care units, which have occupancy for up to 51 Residents. There is a need for nursing staff, among other positions.
What it takes
Consistency in staffing is key for Residents on the Memory Care unit.
“When I have regular staff who knows the team and knows the Residents, you build rapport with them,” Brooks said.
Knowing what to expect on the unit goes a long way. Being flexible and having patience are necessary.
“Knowing the process, what calms them, it helps avoid agitating a Resident,” she said.
“To me, it’s not complicated. It’s more common sense. … A lot of memory care is being flexible and being able to ad lib and roll with it. … You are not going to retrain them to do something. You have to redirect them.”
During meals, Brooks plays music to help calm and focus the Residents while they eat.
“They eat so much better,” she said.
She goes through a list of questions when there is a new admission, asking family members what the Resident likes, what are their behaviors and triggers, what types of music they enjoy and what they did in their lives.
“Anything they can think of that can benefit their mom or their dad to communicate with us,” she said.
“You can have somebody having a bad day, put on some music and they can snap out of it.”
There are about 15 Residents on Abingdon right now. A few are more active than others, but it’s a “very good mix. You can see them build relationships with each other,” Brooks said. They sit on the couch in the common area and chat and laugh.
Knowing what types of sensory redirection a Resident needs can settle them.
“I’m not a huggy person, but you can look at person and know they need that comfort,” Brooks said of hugging others or acting like a goofball if it helps a Resident.
“If you truly want to make a difference, if you truly want to do something … Make their lives better. Ask, ‘what can I do?’,” Brooks said.
“I’ve got plans for this place,” Brooks said.
She’s pitching several ideas to help Residents “be as independent as possible.” That includes a walking club to help settle some of the more restless Residents. Brooks walks with one Resident regularly and it helps settle him, Assistant Administrator Nicole Beck said.
To execute ideas, Brooks knows she has the support of her leadership and team. Hudgins, Beck, Ketch and others are receptive to ideas that help the Residents live their best life.
“I’ve got some awesome staff,” she said. “We couldn’t do what we are doing without the support of Walter Reed team. … We want families to be comfortable when they come in.”
She said she may over-communicate with family, but it ensures families know what is happening with their loved ones.
“The family’s biggest fear is you’re hiding something from them,” she said.
Brooks says she is going to see her plans through.
“I would never want to do anything else. I don’t see myself ever not being a part of this. … I have no intentions of spreading my wings anywhere other than here.”
Virginia Health Services offers assistance in pursuing nursing education, and full- and part-time positions are eligible for benefits including health and dental insurance, and paid leave. VHS also offers a 401K retirement plan to eligible employees.
Virginia Health Services is rolling out a natural supplement program to help enhance Residents’ diets and get away from using commercial supplements by replacing them with more natural ingredients.
The program launched Wednesday at The Arbors Independent Living with a smoothie demonstration from Chef Akira Johnston and a presentation by VHS Director of Dining and Nutrition Viki Reynolds.
The Arbors Residents enjoyed the fruit smoothie of peach, pineapple, mango and fruit juices. As the program amps up, other ingredients, such as leafy greens, berries and protein will be added to the smoothies further enhance nutritional benefits, Reynolds said.
The program also may include other natural snacks such as a yogurt bar or nutritional cookies because “you probably don’t want a smoothie every day,” Reynolds said.
Any time you use real food over something processed you end up getting more nutritional benefits, she added.
The program is starting at VHS’s independent living community before it’s rollout in its assisted living communities and nursing and rehabilitation centers. Eventually, it may be incorporated into individual care plans to replace commercial supplements.
Residents who are at higher risk, not eating well or losing weight will most benefit from the program. The natural ingredients will be high in nutritional benefits, Reynolds said, and the snack program will be served in between meals.
Reynolds, a registered dietician, laid out the key ingredients to a healthy smoothie. It should be a balance of about three ingredients that have varying nutritional benefits. Fruits, berries and a dark leafy green help add fiber, vitamin K, sweetness and antioxidants.
You also should include a source of protein, such as powdered milk, nut or dairy milk, peanut butter or yogurt. Smoothies at long-term care centers would include proteins, she said.
“I’ve seen it work”
Reynolds has worked in other facilities, including Memory Care centers. She said she has seen the natural supplement program work. It’s a good way to get nutrition into Residents who struggle to focus on eating full meals.
The healthy snack program will be incorporated into the daily activity program and the social aspect of the program helps bring Residents out of their rooms.
During the inaugural smoothie rollout, the Residents at The Arbors were asked to select and vote on a name. They were really engaged in the process, so stay tuned for our officially named healthy supplement snack program. Choices included: VHS (Vital, Healthy, Snack burst), VHS Gold Burst, VHS Bright Blends and VHS Flavor Favor. Residents also were encouraged to write-in their own.
During her talk, Reynolds offered tips to “use your knife and fork to sharpen your mind.”
Maintaining a healthy diet, and incorporating specific foods, can help stave off Alzheimer’s, she said.
The talk was paired with a buffet lunch from Arbors Chef Akira Johnston and team that featured several of the foods mentioned, including wild rice pilaf (grains), turkey bruschetta and grilled chicken (poultry), spinach salad with blueberries and strawberries (leafy greens and berries), and seafood soup (fish).
Reynolds is a registered dietitian, one of four on the Virginia Health Services team. She oversees the dining and nutritional programs throughout VHS.
Ways Reynolds said you can feed your brain are through:
Exercise, such as taking a walk.
Keep mind active, like doing crossword puzzles or watching Jeopardy.
Diet, incorporating specific foods into your week that have antioxidants and Omega 3s.
The diet for your mind should include foods in their truest form – such as fresh strawberries and blueberries – so you get the most from their health benefits.
With a basket of recommended foods at her side, Reynolds walked the audience through the “Mind Diet.”
Green vegetables: two servings per day is recommended. (“As a dietitian, I have to tell you, you need more than that,” she says.)
Dark, leafy greens: two servings per day. Includes kale, dark leafy green lettuce. A vegetable such as broccoli is good, but you need a larger serving to get the same benefits.
Berries: five servings (half cup) a week. “It’s best to eat them raw,” Reynolds said. That includes blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries. They have antioxidants that help reduce inflammation.
Dried beans: three servings per week. They contain Omega 3s, which “promote healthy brain function.”
Whole grains: three servings per day. Includes brown rice, whole grain breads, oats and whole grain cereals.
Poultry: two to three times a week. Grilled chicken, turkey, etc.
Salmon: one serving per week. High in Omega 3s, which work to “decrease protein clumps that might be happening in the brain.”
Olive oil: 2 tablespoons a day. Extra virgin olive oil is less processed and has the most health benefits. While it doesn’t have a low smoke point, which makes it not as good to cook with, it can be used in salad dressings for those dark, leafy green and berry salads.
Nuts: five times a week “is encouraged.” Any type of tree nuts, such as walnuts and pecans, are good. Peanuts, which grow in the ground, have fewer nutritional benefits, but when unprocessed are still OK. Oils in the nuts are high in Omega 3s and antioxidants.
Shopping and other tips
Reynolds shared several tips to help you feed your “mind diet.”
At the grocery store
“Keep your cart on the outside lanes of the grocery store,” she said. “That’s where you’ll find the fresh produce, fresh meat, even some of the frozen items on ends. Inside aisles have the less healthy items, like boxed and canned goods that can contain high levels of sugar and sodium.”
Read the packages before purchasing to check for the nutritional benefits.
You’ll get the most benefits out of whole food items. If they are canned, or otherwise altered, you’ll lose nutritional benefits such as fiber, beta carotene, etc.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are good alternatives to raw, as they are frozen at their peak and can keep longer than fresh produce.
Talk to a physician about adding certain foods to your diet if you are concerned it will react poorly with a prescribed medication.
Try to avoid red meat, bacon, and other items high in sodium or fat.
Smoothies can limit nutritional value, but “if someone has a cognitive issue, transform the food however you can to get these items into their diet.”
While concentrating on diet can be helpful, and in early stages, can help back up damage to memory in later stages, Reynolds said.
Healthwise, “you can’t lose with following something like this,” she said.
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.
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.
The American College of Health Care Administrators (ACHCA) established the week to recognize the “key players in the care team.” Administrators “are entrusted with the responsibility of managing the care of our loved ones. They touch the lives of residents and families, and, most importantly, ensure that their staff provides the highest level of quality care to a vulnerable population.”
Virginia Health Services celebrates our Administrators at our nursing and rehabilitation centers! They dedicate their time and attention to their Residents and team members. They multi-task and do whatever they can to make their centers feel like home, all while providing leadership and support to their entire team.
Please join us in thanking our long-term care Administrators and Assistant Administrators and get to know them in their Q&As below.
Coliseum Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
Dudley Haas, Administrator
Years with Virginia Health Services: 9 years.
What drew you to a career in long-term care? I started as a QA (Quality Assurance) nurse for the hours and ended up in the Administrator-in-Training program.
How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? Every day is different.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? Some of the issues and concerns that we deal with daily.
What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? Quilting.
Haley Holland was promoted to Assistant Administrator last week. She served as Activity Director as Coliseum prior to her promotion.
James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Stephen Berczek, Assistant Administrator
Years with Virginia Health Services: About 3.
What drew you to a career in long-term care? Started out in physical therapy as a tech for VHS and then branched off into the administrative roles.
How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? Rewarding, challenging, fast-paced.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The extensive workload.
What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? Snowboarding, riding motorcycles, traveling and golfing.
What drew you to a career in long-term care? In life, people close to me struggled with early onset dementia including my mom and my grandpa. It was important to me to have a career that would allow me to assist in providing support for residents as well as their families. Creating an environment that assists individuals to live their later years with happiness and dignity celebrating who they were as well as who they are now.
How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? So incredibly rewarding!
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? I think people would be surprised at how much fun we have. There are components that are very difficult but we find ways to laugh every single day.
What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? I am a photographer.
Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Nikki Clements is coming up on a year as Administrator. This is her second turn with Virginia Health Services. She says her true passion is serving the Residents and staff in our long-term care communities and believes that to be successful is understanding that “what you do is far greater than what you say” from Stephen Covey. In her spare time, Nikki enjoys traveling and spending time on the water with her family and their rainbow of rescued labs.
Erin Mathis is the Assistant Administrator. She wore many hats in several roles at Northampton prior to her promotion.
Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Bryant Hudgins, Administrator
Years with Virginia Health Services: 25 years.
What drew you to a career in long-term care? I was drawn to long-term care because I enjoy helping people and I’ve felt that at times our older, wiser community has been underserved and sometimes forgotten.
How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? Rewarding, fast-paced, unique.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? The ever-changing needs of each day. There is not much of a constant. The job and its duties evolve daily.
On a different note, it can be surprising to others how upbeat and active our Residents are. Long-term care at times is looked at as an end-of-life setting, but our Residents in the facility lead very active lives, maintaining social groups, engaging in activities, etc.
What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? I am a board member on the Rappahannock Foundation for the Arts and work to bring all types of fine arts performances, even internationally, to the Northern Neck of Virginia. Expectedly, I enjoy coaching youth sports. I have been doing this for the last 11 years.
Nicole Beck, Assistant Administrator
Years with Virginia Health Services: Less than a year.
What drew you to a career in long-term care? I had a family member who was in a state facility and saw what happens when an administrator has control but doesn’t have passion. I wanted to change that.
How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? Juggler at a circus.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? How much time I don’t spend in my office. And that I can easily make my 10,000 steps a day in heels.
What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? Driving in the snow, when we had those couple days last month. I was loving it. Being outdoors, snow sports or mudding with the family.
York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Elizabeth Cabusora, Administrator
Years with Virginia Health Services: Started as administrator June 2021; was LPN at James River from 2008-2009.
What drew you to a career in long-term care? Caring for others — family, people of authority, peers, elderly – was part of my upbringing.
How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? Compassion is required.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? You can utilize your talents in your workplace — we all appreciate the effort!
What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? Karaoke 😊
Jordan Kay, Assistant Administrator
Years with Virginia Health Services: Almost a year and a half.
What drew you to a career in long-term care? I was drawn to working in long-term care for many reasons. The main reason is that I wanted to help those who have shaped all of us and the world into what we are today. I love being the reason one of my Resident’s smiles.
How would you describe your job in 3 to 5 words? Rewarding, fun, and a reason to smile.
What aspect(s) of the job would surprise others? One moment I could be fixing a TV then the next moment I could be playing checkers with a Resident.
What is something you like to do outside of the facility that is unexpected? I love spending my time off outside, whether that is hiking in the summer or snowboarding in the winter.
The 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
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
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.
Virginia Health Services launched a website redesign and we couldn’t be prouder and more excited to share it with you!
Your best life is our mission, and the redesigned vahs.com reflects how we can help you live your best life. The navigation is easy and the site can be accessed from any device. You will have an improved user experience when you visit vahs.com.
The redesigned site provides resources and guidance at your fingertips. Your introduction to the VHS spectrum of healthcare offerings begins on the homepage and provides you with the details you need to inform your decisions as you – or your loved ones – age.
You can access details on all of our lines of service, from senior living options to nursing and rehabilitation centers to home health care, outpatient rehab and hospice.
We also clearly define our mission, vision and values that shape Virginia Health Services’ daily approach to being a provider of choice in southeastern Virginia.
We have made it easier to share your findings with others or to save the information for yourself. And you can contact us from any page.
Jobseekers will find the process more streamlined on our Careers page, with easy access to our job opportunities and ways to apply.
To keep up with the continual changes in healthcare, our Blog will serve as an ongoing, updated resource. You’ll find employee and patient spotlights, tips on living your best life and a showcase of Virginia Health Services’ innovative approaches to its lines of service.
Virginia Health Services has specialized in senior healthcare in southeastern Virginia for nearly 60 years. It’s time our website reflected our growth in the community. Let us know how we can serve you by filling out a contact form on any page.