By Cesca Waterfield
This week, certified nursing assistant (CNA) Dorothy Willis will celebrate 12 years working at Westmoreland Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Colonial Beach. It’s a significant anniversary to be sure, But Dorothy had already been a nursing assistant for 18 years when she entered the facility at 2400 MacKinney Boulevard for her first day of work July 16, 2001.
Dorothy has cared for her patients for 30 years, but she’s not alone in loyalty and compassion. Christine Braxton has worked at Westmoreland Rehab since its opening in 1992; Darlene Burton has been there for five years.
“They are essential not only the nursing department but the facility because they can actually do more than one job and they don’t mind jumping in,” says Assistant Director of Nursing Evanthe Rockwood. “They know the residents really well. They’re the eyes and ears of the nurses because they work closer with them than anyone. I’ve worked with these three ladies in the eight years that I’ve been here. They actually care about what they’re doing. Being a CNA is not easy at all. It’s a back-breaking job and they do it with style and class everyday that they come in. I am beyond grateful to have them as a part of my staff. I love them.”
Dorothy received training as a nursing assistant as a senior at Washington and Lee High School.
“They teach you how to take care of residents – blood pressures, temperatures and stuff like that,” Dorothy remembers. “But because the class I took in high school was a whole year, we did stuff that nurses would do. We did term papers and all that.”
When industry regulations changed, Dorothy traveled each day to the Glenns Campus of Rappahannock Community College over the course of three months to earn her nursing certificate.
“When I first started out, my mom said, ‘You’re never going to make it,’” Dorothy says with a laugh. “And I really thought I wasn’t!”
Dorothy joined the staff of Westmoreland Rehab on July 16, 2001 after 18 years working at another facility. “I’ve seen a lot in my [career],” Dorothy says. “I’ve seen a little bit of everything.”
Dorothy appreciates the quality of care at Westmoreland Rehab. “I like the residents and the families,” she says. “I’ve met so many people.”
She admits that saying goodbye is often the hardest part of her job. “When I first started out, I would get really attached,” Dorothy remembers. “And then they would pass away. That was the roughest part.”
Dorothy’s two adult children who respect what their mom does.
And her mother who warned Dorothy about the difficulty of nursing? Today she’s a resident at Westmoreland Rehab who’s witnessed her daughter’s professionalism first hand.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Christine moved to Montross at age two. She attended Montross Elementary and A.T. Johnson and graduated from W&L. Soon after, she became a nursing assistant. In 1992, she came to work at Westmoreland Rehab on the day the facility opened its doors.
Although her parents passed away when she was a child, caring for others runs in Christine’s family. “My mom was a nurse and my daddy helped people too,” Christine says with pride. “I said I was going to follow in their footsteps. I like it.”
Her advice to young men and women considering careers as a nurse? “Make something of yourself. Be proud of yourself,” Christine says.
Darlene’s first job out of high school was as a nursing assistant. She began at Westmoreland Rehab when it opened. She later worked at a Fredericksburg facility for several years before returning to Westmoreland Rehab in 2008.
“It makes me feel good to take care of someone who needs my help,” Darlene says. “For people who can’t do for themselves and I can do for them, that makes me feel good.”
Darlene has four daughters aged 9 to 33. She talks to them about the CNA field. “I think it’s a good field to start off in,” Darlene says. “If you like working with elderly people, you would like being a CNA or an LPN or an RN.”
In her fifth consecutive year at Westmoreland Rehab, Darlene says, “This is a good facility to work for.”