VCU Health celebrates Black History Month

Published 1:56 pm Thursday, March 4, 2021

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This February VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital (VCU Health CMH) celebrated Black History Month by telling the stories of several black families that work together at VCU Health CMH, their philosophies on care and the lasting impact they have on their patients.

Mary Alexander and Hattie Jones

Mary Alexander and Hattie Jones are sisters-in-law, both employed at VCU Health CMH. Mary is the senior program support assistant in Food and Nutritional Service at CMH. She lives in Lunenburg County. Hattie is a care partner for Labor and Delivery and resides in South Hill. Mary married Hattie’s brother, Charles Alexander, more than 30 years ago. They consider each other sisters because they have been in the same family for so long. They both attend Faith Baptist Church, along with their families. Hattie works nights so they do not see each other at work but they talk daily or every other day.

Alexander spent most of her career at a law firm in Richmond for 30 years before joining VCU Health as the senior executive secretary to the director of education and professional development. After a year, she transferred to the Hundley Center to be closer to her aging parents.

“My mom is now a resident at the Hundley Center but having worked there I know she is in good hands with my dear former co-workers,” she said.

Mary Alexander, Charles Alexander and Hattie Jones are in the same family by marriage and have all been employed at VCU Health CMH. Mary married Hattie’s brother, Charles Alexander.

Working in food service, Alexander is responsible for ensuring her patients receive the proper nutrients and her coworkers have healthy and high-quality meals. She feels good about providing this support service. Her parents taught her the value of hard work.

“I will tell anyone, you don’t know hard work until you are on a tobacco farm,” she joked.

Alexander’s greatest challenge is remembering it is OK to fail. She has learned failure opens other doors with more blessings beyond her expectations. She also has a sister in the mental health field who is working on her master’s in social work at VCU.

Jones began her career in the manufacturing industry. After a layoff she received the opportunity to continue her education as part of the severance package. She always wanted to work in health care, so she decided to pursue a career as a certified nursing assistant. She worked in long-term care at Envoy in Lawrenceville before coming to VCU Health CMH in 2017. Her father endured many illnesses before passing. Being a CNA gave her the necessary skills to assist with caring for him. She desires to show that compassion while caring for her patients.

“My main health care professional goal is to always treat people the way I want to be treated,” Jones explained.

The most challenging part of Jones’ career was watching residents in her care coming to the end of life and knowing she could do nothing else to help them. Now in obstetrics, she enjoys seeing the beginning of life working with newborns.

Her youngest daughter, Brutaja, is a junior in the social work program at VCU, and her oldest daughter, India, holds a CNA license. Caring for the well-being of others runs in the family.

Jones’ husband, Kenneth, and she will celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary in August.

Lauren Ayres and Yolanda Talley

Lauren Ayres and Yolanda Talley are sisters and third generation health care workers who are both employed at VCU Health CMH. Their mother, Lynn Ayres, RN, also worked at CMH in the medical surgical wing, and their grandmother, Louise Rumph, LPN, worked in New Jersey. Other cousins, aunts and uncles are in health care, including a pathologist. Lauren Ayres, LPN, works in CMH dermatology and resides in Drakes Branch in Charlotte County. Yolanda Talley is a phlebotomist in the laboratory and lives in La Crosse. They do cross paths from time to time in the office.

Despite the family health care gene, the jury is still out on whether their kids will eventually follow suit. Lauren’s son is majoring in computer information systems and Yolanda’s kids are not as excited about health care as she was growing up.

“They don’t like blood too much,” she joked.

“It was great growing up with a mother and grandmother who were nurses,” Ayres said. “They taught us to help people and how to have compassion. They also taught me to treat people the way I would want myself and my family members to be treated and to always do my best to help people who need it. Also, to smile because a smile can brighten a person’s day.”

She knew from an early age that nursing was her calling. She feels like it is in her blood and absolutely loves caring for others. She faces challenges every day, but she has learned how to stay calm, plan ahead, be kind and treat everyone with respect.

“Nursing isn’t easy but it’s worth it,” she said. “The most rewarding thing I have found about being a nurse is the personal connection that I am able to make with patients and their families. I have the privilege of helping others when they are most vulnerable. Treating people with kindness and respect goes a long way.

“It’s always neat running into people who either my mother has taken care of them or their loved ones, just hearing how good of a nurse she was; the nice things they say about her brightens my day,” Ayres said.

Yolanda Talley, CPT, MA, has fond memories growing up the daughter of a nurse. “I always thought it was cool,” Talley said. “You wouldn’t stay hurt long. She was one of the best nurses here before she retired a few years ago. She always knew how to make things better.”

Talley has a heart to help people.

“It’s definitely a gift given to me to want to help people feel better,” she said.

She loves meeting new people and seeing smiles on faces in tough situations.

“I keep a smile under the mask no matter what,” she said.

VCU Health CMH is not only thankful for these families, but for all the caring, compassionate workers that love what they do and keep the community healthy.

Trakecha South is the chairperson for the Diversity and Unity Council at VCU Health CMH.

“While the days may seem long and troubling, the CMH community has prevailed, people are stepping up and performing in ways they may not have imagined, and the resilience of our workplace continues to shine through,” she said.