Homeland Center CNA Rebeccah DeVan: Bringing a family feel to Ellenberger dementia unit

Rebeccah DeVan

Lead CNA Rebeccah DeVan enjoying a moment in the Ellenberger conservatory.

Rebeccah DeVan’s grandfather, in declining health, called his home care aides “featherweights.”

“Honey,” he’d tell them. “I don’t want to get you fired, but go get my grandbaby.”

That was Rebeccah’s introduction to nursing, helping care for her grandparents in their later years. She realized she enjoyed caring for others. Employed by an insurance company, she needed to get out of the cubicle and “talk to some real people, and not just on the phone.” She trained through the Tri-County OIC Adult Learning Center in Harrisburg and took her first CNA job at Homeland.

“I can say I’ve been blessed to start at Homeland,” she says. “You definitely realize the quality of care here.”

Rebeccah is a lead CNA in Homeland Center’s 24-bed Ellenberger Unit, which treats those with advancing memory impairment. The unit is part of Homeland’s continuum of care that includes Personal Care, Skilled Care, Rehabilitation Services and Homeland at Home services including Hospice, HomeCare and HomeHealth.

Rebeccah learned her approach to nursing from one of her grandmothers, her “granny,” a registered nurse at the former Pennsylvania State Hospital. Granny’s words still ring in her ears: “You treat others how you want them to treat you. Remember that could be me there.”

As lead CNA, Rebeccah provides care for residents and also trains new CNAs in their duties and expectations.

Growing up in Harrisburg with five siblings, Rebeccah was part of a large, extended family, with grandparents, aunts, and uncles all within walking distance. Friday night fish fries were drop-in affairs featuring her mom’s homemade fresh flounder stuffed with crab, coleslaw on the side.

Her life continues to revolve around her family of five children and three grandchildren, including a newborn granddaughter. When her 5-year-old grandson plays football, she is “definitely one of the grannies running along the sidelines.”

She has another family at Homeland, not just colleagues but residents she deems grannies, aunts, and cousins. Deb Kivler, whose husband Herb is an Ellenberger “cousin,” was enjoying the Ellenberger solarium when Rebeccah came by. Deb says she appreciates the familial care Rebeccah provides.

“She is so thoughtful and takes such good care of everyone,” says Deb. “We just love her.”

In Ellenberger, Rebeccah sees her role as organizer and peacemaker. The other CNAs say she’s “always in Mom mode.”

“I want everyone to communicate and be respectful,” she says. “I’m big on respect. If we can’t respect each other, then it’s not going to be smooth. Respect will take you much further than trying to be nasty.”

Working in dementia care requires constant adaptation to ever-changing circumstances, and Rebeccah wouldn’t have it any other way.

She first worked at Homeland from 2003 to 2009. Then she worked in other settings for several years, but she had trouble convincing management to meet the high standards she knew from Homeland. That’s where she recognized that, even without such supports as adequate supplies for the nursing staff, she loved the work she was doing.

“My heart is with the dementia unit,” she says. “I can honestly say I enjoy it.”

Her path wound its way back to Homeland in December 2015.

“Everybody at Homeland cares, from the top on down,” she says. “I look at it as a family. Everyone plays a role in the family.”

Ellenberger is the right size for getting to know the residents, and all colleagues share her passion for caregiving.

“I like that everyone here is concerned about residents’ well-being,” Rebeccah says. “I like being hands-on, and I need to work in a place where everybody enjoys their job just as much as I do. You can feel the concern and the love.”