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Salisbury Employees procure diverse patient supplies

Specialty hair care social workers
Salisbury Employees procure diverse patient supplies

The Salisbury VA Community Living Center (CLC) is an incredibly nice living space that some might even call swanky or opulent.  It is the centerpiece of a top-rated facility program and the highlight of facility tours, but more affectionately referred to as our CLC Resident’s home.  Our motto is Veteran’s don’t live in our facility; we work in their home.

Regardless of age or occasion, people like to look and feel their best.  Our sole purpose for being here is to care for those who served and help them live their best lives. Our CLC resident’s quality of life has always been a priority for the CLC Leadership Team and staff. Often, we take it for granted that everyone presents themselves as they wish.  Although this request may seem simple to some, it’s extremely important to others; a connection to culture and identity.

This initiative originated at the request of CLC, Nurse Manager Tammy Ford who contacted Michelle Gillespie-Gray, a Social Worker Supervisor in the Community Living Center at the Salisbury VA Health Care System. Ms. Ford contacted Gillespie-Gray to request ethnic products for African American residents. As the Chair of the Social Justice Committee, Gillespie-Gray took the reins of advocacy for the cause. 

“Gillespie-Gray says all Veterans should feel their best when they can, and the provision of ethnic personal hygiene products made for African American skin types helps us create a more inclusive understanding of culture. The need emanates from the physiology of skin and hair types, and to meet cultural, historical environmental differences. Studies around the world have shown differences in the capacity for skin to hold moisture, and to maintain elasticity with age.

She worked the request, initiated in the CLC by Nurse Manager Tammy Ford, in collaboration with CLC, Mental Health, Acute Care, Substance Abuse Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program (SARRTP), and the Salisbury VA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Committee, the Center for Development and Civic Engagement and the Social Justice Committee. “This was in an effort to help promote Diversity Equity and Inclusion throughout the Medical Center and individualized care that is culturally sensitive and ensures dignity and respect for our Veterans”.  

Gillespie-Gray relates the conversation about the hygiene products were in step with some of the tough, raw conversations many people were having surrounding the George Floyd murder.  Those discussions inspired an environment for frank discussion of latent issues.  This was one. 

Gillespie-Gray began a list after collaborating with Nurse Manager, Tammy Ford. While compiling the list, Gillespie-Gray wondered if other impatient areas had the same requests and could benefit from providing these products to Veterans in those areas. She reached out to points of contact in Mental Health, SARRTP and Acute Care and discovered these areas also had the same need.

Compiling the list was the first task of many to bring the project to fruition.  The intrepid social worker engaged the supply chain process and found some challenges.  You can’t just go out and buy things because you want them.  There is a process to ensure taxpayer dollars are wisely spent, and for that there is a justification and approval process, a funding process to stay in budget and an expectation for shelf life.

The team is working the issues.  But in the meantime, Gillespie-Gray didn’t want Veterans to go without any longer – well, any longer than they have to.  She teamed up with Les Eason, Salisbury Director of the Center for Development and Civic Engagement to try alternative methods of procurement.  It worked. Right away they were able to develop and build packages of ethnic items for distribution to Veterans in the CLC, Mental Health, SARRTP and Acute Care, all inpatient areas. “We always try to get the things patients come without,” chimed Eason.  He worked with several regular VA donors, including a local sorority to collect ethnic hygiene products.  Thanks to consistent, reliable community relationships, it appears Veterans can expect to regularly use large wide-tooth combs and stiff bore brushes, hair gel, coconut oil and other hair maintenance products like, oil sheen, Vaseline and beard oil, shampoo, and conditioner.

Nursing Assistant Roberta Bell reports, “these products did wonders for the African American Males and females when taking care of their hair and skin.” She said the residents were elated when she used them to meet the Veterans’ personal care needs. CLC resident Ms. Brittingham backed up the claim, adding that she loved it, it made her hair soft and helped it to grow. Bell compassionately added her appreciation for the project, declaring, “In the 8 years I’ve been employed here, this is the first time I’ve seen products available specifically for African American residents.”

It certainly seems the project was the right thing to do. This initiative expanded our embrace of diversity and helped us continue to evolve as an organization. Gillespie-Gray would like to thank all those who collaborated on this project to bring it to fruition. Thank you to Nurse Manager, Tammy Ford, Roberta Bell, Erin Coulter, Meesha Miller, Gwen Hampton, John Gaffney, Katherine Lamb, Sheila Womack, DE&I Committee, Social Justice Committee, Les Eason, Franklin McCombs, Kimberly Davis, James Martin and all the other staff in the Office of Development and Civic Engagement. This could not have been possible without everyone’s assistance.


Ethnic Personal Hygiene Products for Inpatient Areas
CLC, MH, Acute Care & SARRTP
Large Wide tooth combs
Stiff bore brushes
Natural hair products such as shampoos, conditioner, coconut oil
hair grease
oil sheen
Shampoo and conditioner
Moisturizing lotion


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