ARH Women in Leadership Series: Violet Sylvia

The women in leadership for Appalachian Regional Healthcare are a diverse group of strong, accomplished, intelligent women. Despite having these characteristics in common, each of them is unique, taking on a completely different set of responsibilities and challenges when they walk through the doors of ARH each day. From administrative responsibilities, to nursing and caring for patients, to the creation of new initiatives allowing ARH’s reach to grow, these women are nothing short of incredible.


Not many people can say they moved from Eastern Kentucky to join the Navy as a Medical Corpsman jumping from Orlando, to Virginia, Chicago, California, Alaska and back to California to earn their PhD and now work for a hospital system of 12 facilities. Violet Sylvia, System Director of Rehabilitation for ARH, did exactly that. As a teenager, she volunteered as a candy striper at her local hospital where she fostered a love for patient care. Growing up on a farm in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, Violet’s family did not have much money, but she knew she wanted to attend college. In 1975, Violet left Kentucky on a bus for Orlando, Florida where she completed Navy basic training followed by four years of active duty and two years in the reserves.

“During that four years of active duty I had the opportunity as this small town girl from Mount Sterling, Kentucky, to see places like Orlando, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; and San Diego, California,” Violet says. “I experienced large cities and diversity of people. I guess it was kind of like fate that it happened that way because by the time I started my college education I really knew where I wanted to be, what I wanted to do and how I wanted to go about it.”

Violet was able to utilize the GI Bill to complete her education in California where she earned her MBA with an emphasis in healthcare administration from National University and her PhD in business management from California Coast University. She completed her dissertation work in healthcare management and the impact it has on patient outcomes. This combined with practical work experience and her existing passion for patient care led her to pursue a career in rehabilitation services.

“Working in the emergency room led me to rehabilitation,” Violet says. “We would stabilize a patient and save their life after something like a motorcycle accident or traumatic brain injury and off they would go. I always wondered what quality of life they had after their accident. Did they go back to work, were they able to spend time with family, play baseball if that’s what they loved to do? That was the lightbulb that moved me into the rehabilitation unit. I’ve been very fortunate to have chosen a career I love and look forward to doing every day.”

In her current role as System Director of Rehabilitation Services, Violet oversees the service line for physical, occupational, and speech therapy for all 12 ARH facilities. She believes someone in her role needs to have organizational and leadership skills while also being very mission driven. Exercising these skills has afforded Violet 13 years working in the rehabilitation service line for ARH.

“During this last 13 years we’ve been able to accomplish a lot of clinical growth,” she says. “I’ve worked a lot on continuing education bringing in speakers who have provided programs for our rehabilitation staff to obtain certifications and learn new protocols. For me that’s really exciting because it’s a way to give back to those front-line people who are hands on with our patients and provide them with the latest and greatest skills. I’m also proud that we are able to promote from within and watch those qualified candidates grow as leaders. We’re now a preferred provider of rehabilitation services because of our clinical quality and as a result we’ve had clinical and financial success. I’m really proud of my team and the growth we’ve accomplished.”

It is clear that almost everyone who works for ARH has an unconditional love for the organization, their career and the people they work with each day. It’s no wonder why so many of ARH’s women in leadership have been with the organization for 10 plus years, sometimes after returning for a second tenure.

“In my position I have the opportunity to visit every single one of our hospital and clinic locations that make a positive impact on someone’s life through rehabilitation,” she says. “This gives me the opportunity to see our services in action. When I see a patient who wasn’t able to walk and then after rehab services, I watch them walk out of the clinic, or I see a non-verbal child work with our therapists and then they communicate with their family for the first time, that is so impactful. These are reasons why I love working in rehab services.”

When asked what she loved most about her position with ARH, Violet says, “I think my favorite thing about my job is the people I work with. Whether I am working with system leadership or Community CEOs and of course my amazing managers, they all make coming to work a positive experience. I’m blessed to work with people at all levels of our organization who really want to make a positive impact on our patients and the community.”

While Violet is an incredibly hard worker, she says she owes her current success to the support of her mother. Thanks to her mother’s encouragement she was able to enter the military to earn the GI Bill and attend school.

“My mom supported my vision for my future. She always encouraged me, from the time I was a candy striper, to when I graduated high school early, got on a bus and headed for basic training right after my 18th birthday,” Violet says. “She inspired me saying that whatever I set my mind to I could accomplish and I knew she would support me. Looking back now as I’m older and have kids and grandkids, I’m sure it had to be hard for my mother. I think about how it must have felt for her staring at that bus watching my wings spread. She never expressed her worry, she only said to go and do what inspired me and that she supported me.”

Today, Violet looks to her husband and family for support and to keep her grounded. She says her husband’s personality perfectly complements her Type A personality serving as a calming force in her life.

“I have a very supportive and patient husband,” she says. “I’ve been blessed to have someone in my life who challenges me, provides comfort, but also supports my need to create.”

In her free time Violet loves spending time with family and her two rescue

Chihuahuas, Dusty and Haley. She also enjoys reading mystery novels, and volunteering at animal shelters. Giving back to the community of eastern Kentucky is extremely important to her. Outside of her role at ARH, Violet continues to work in the rehabilitation realm. She is the co-founder of Kentucky Appalachian Rural Rehabilitation Network (KARRN), an organization dedicated to improving quality of life for all by advocating for communities impacted by disability.

When asked what advice she has for young women interested in entering the medical field, she had this to say:

“You just have to expect the unexpected,” Violet says. “I think that holds true in professional and personal life. You have to anticipate the unexpected happening and when it does, just go with it. If you understand that things are not always going to happen as you plan, then you treat the unexpected more as a problem to solve than a crisis. That really helps me keep life balanced. Whenever things happen I am ready to address the issue and handle the problem. If you keep that level of calm and treat it as a challenge to overcome rather than a crisis then it takes much less time to resolve.”

Violet has loved her time with ARH and we are equally grateful for her hard work and dedication. Join us in thanking Violet for 13 years of service and congratulating her on retiring on November 30, 2018!

ARH Women in Leadership Series: Dena Sparkman

The women in leadership for Appalachian Regional Healthcare are a diverse group of strong, accomplished, intelligent women. Despite having these characteristics in common, each of them is unique, taking on a completely different set of responsibilities and challenges when they walk through the doors of ARH each day. From administrative responsibilities, to nursing and caring for patients, to the creation of new initiatives allowing ARH’s reach to grow, these women are nothing short of incredible.

ARH is a very tight-knit community, as are the towns each facility is located in. It is common to hear locals say they were born at an ARH hospital. This connection is part of what fosters the sense of pride and passion each ARH employee has for their work. Dena Sparkman was born at McDowell ARH and grew up in a town called Wheelwright, Kentucky, just 12 miles from the hospital. After spending stints of time in Durham, North Carolina and Lexington, Kentucky, Dena was excited to return home in 1993 to begin her career with the organization where it all began. After almost 25 years, and a variety of leadership roles she currently serves as the Community CEO at Whitesburg ARH.

In this role, Dena is operationally responsible for the hospital and clinical operations on campus. In addition to the hospital, three clinics fall under her jurisdiction: one on the hospital campus, a cardiology clinic located nearby and one in Jenkins, Kentucky.

“I once had a mentor say to me that there is no substitute for brains,” Dena says. “To be a community CEO you have to have a varied background with knowledge about the hospital, community and clinics. You need both people skills and financial skills.”

Dena always planned to enter the healthcare field and originally pursued her undergraduate degree in biology at Alice Lloyd College. She then attended medical technology school at Duke University with plans to work in the lab after graduation. For about six months, Dena worked in the lab ultimately deciding it wasn’t the career for her. Dena continued her education by completing her Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration at the University of Kentucky. During the last year of her Master’s program Dena’s instructor passed around a flyer for an Administrative Fellow position with ARH and she jumped at the opportunity to return home.

“I asked her to hand the flyer over to me and I decided that position was mine, I was going home!” Dena says. “My parents and the rest of my family were in Eastern Kentucky and that’s where I wanted to be.”

Dena was hired as Administrative Fellow. In this position Dena learned hospital administration through hands-on experience working for six months in the corporate office and six months out in the field.

“It’s never the same day twice and it’s never a boring day in healthcare,” she says. “There’s always something unexpected and I think one of the reasons I love it is because you get to help people. You make decisions and do things that impact their lives, and that’s powerful. It may not just be patients, it may be employees. It’s always something different and I love that.”

Dena’s passion for healthcare stems from her experience with severe asthma as a young girl. Asthma attacks would send her to the emergency room regularly where she met her special nurse, Shelby Jean Boyd. Her nurse was sure to give her medicine and oxygen and once Dena was feeling better Shelby Jean would pop popcorn and they would spend time talking and catching up.

“I’ll just never forget, when I saw her I knew it was going to be alright if she was there,” Dena says. “It didn’t matter to me which doctor was there, if Shelby Jean was there everything was going to be great. Because of her I tell people, never underestimate the impact you’re going to have on someone because 30 years later I’m still talking about Shelby Jean.”

Today, Dena loves volunteering her time mentoring kids in the community. Together they work on resumes, interview skills and talk through the details of different career paths. Whether they are interested in the healthcare field or something else, she loves giving back to the community in this way.

“There have been a lot of people who have served as mentors in my life,” she says. “I think everyone needs a mentor, someone they can call and bounce ideas off of in a non-punitive way. It’s your one get out of jail free card, someone you are comfortable with that you can sharpen your skills against in a way that is good for both parties.”

Dena loves her job, but also makes time for work-life balance. Outside of her volunteer work, Dena is an avid reader, loves to go to the movies, her son’s marching band events, and spending cozy nights in doing jigsaw puzzles.

“In order to make the work-life balance work, you have to realize that you’re only one person and you can’t do it all,” Dena says.

When asked what advice she has for a young woman interested in entering the healthcare field she had this to say:

“Try it, you might like it. I think more young women should try it and not be intimidated by the environment.”

Whitesburg ARH is lucky to have such a driven, hard-working and well-rounded Community CEO in Dena Sparkman.

Three Ways To Land More Job Interviews

While we all know it takes a lot of work to score an interview, you could be making some mistakes in the application process that is holding you back from moving on to the next step in the process. It’s impossible to please everyone – HR managers included – but there are some simple and easy steps you can take to increase your chances of getting an interview.

Ashley Stahl, Career Coach and Forbes Contributor, sheds some light on these three simple steps and how they’re going to give you an edge over your competition when it comes to landing the big interview. Want to read what she has to say? Keep reading!

So… How Can I Land More Job Interviews?

As a coach to job seekers and budding entrepreneurs, there’s one thing I find true across all career paths: networking is king. Why is networking so important, you ask? One survey, for example, found that 85% of critical jobs are filled through networking. Another touts that 70% to 80% of new jobs are not even listed, meaning that networking is the only way to find these positions.

For some, however, the skill of networking is easier said than done, especially if you are introverted or would describe yourself as shy. Whether you’re on the hunt for a new position, or looking to land your first clients, if you’re not networking, you’re missing opportunities. Here are three networking tips that will get you out of your chair and into the mix!

1. Reach out to those similar to your level. 

While it’s tempting to look upward for a bigger and better opportunity, sometimes it is most beneficial to talk to those near your same level. That way, when it’s time for a job recommendation or a performance evaluation, you can be on the forefront of your potential boss or co-worker’s mind and have a realistic shot at getting that promotion.

 2. Talk about your “transition” versus your “job hunt.”

It’s always important to walk to the fine line between being aggressive and being mindful. Remember to emphasize your desire to grow rather than your dissatisfaction about your current position. This also gives you the opportunity to really know the other person you are talking with, as you can both discuss your goals, desires, and progress in your personal growth, rather than dwelling on the past and griping about your current situation.

3. Get inspired.

Whenever I reach a lull, I can typically depend on a solid Ted Talk to stay motivated. If you’re new to Ted Talks, here are some of my favorite talks geared toward communication skills.

While seeing all these tips and recommendations at once may seem overwhelming, don’t let the influx of information get to you. As a career coach, I often remind people that it’s all about taking one small step at a time… and in doing that, just think of it as talking to one more person at the next social event. Soon, you’ll realize that the doors weren’t necessarily closed for you as much as you may have been mentally blocking yourself from opening them.

To read the full blog on, follow the link:

ARH Women in Leadership Series: Sonya Bergman

The women in leadership for the Appalachian Regional Healthcare system are a diverse group of strong, accomplished, intelligent women. Despite having these characteristics in common, each of them is unique, taking on a completely different set of responsibilities and challenges when they walk through the doors of ARH each day. From administrative responsibilities, to nursing and caring for patients, to the creation of new initiatives allowing ARH’s reach to grow, these women are nothing short of incredible.

Sonya Bergman has over 30 years of human resources experience. Currently serving as the System Director of Human Resources, Sonya has worked in the ARH HR department for 20 years. She always knew she wanted to impact others through her career. She considered nursing, but ultimately felt she was more business minded than clinically minded. Working in healthcare HR provided the best of both worlds, allowing her to make an impact through the administrative side of a hospital.

“Working in HR for the healthcare field is different than working say in a vehicle manufacturing plant,” Sonya says. “In HR we work with a lot of different people, and I think that’s what has always made it interesting to me. I’m not just coming in and giving someone a job, I’m making their career dreams come true. I’ve always been drawn to helping people and I think healthcare workers are different. It takes a special kind of person.”

Like many other ARH employees, Sonya has a personal connection to the organization. Her friends and family have received care through ARH and she takes pride in the trust and love she has for her co-workers.

“I’ve been here 20 years and I feel like it’s been a major milestone for my career,” Sonya says. “My theory is this: If I can lay my head down at night knowing I’ve done the best I can do then I feel like I’ve contributed somehow, some way.”

It’s no secret that ARH employees love their jobs and co-workers. Sonya recalled an instance a few years ago when ARH expertly maneuvered a computer system failure, beaming with pride for ARH and the incredible people she works with.

“Our HR departments across the whole system and several other departments came together and manually entered payroll for 5,000 people,” Sonya says. “Everyone was working together whether it was going to Lexington or working 18 hours a day, you could see the commitment in their faces. That’s what ARH is, we’re family and we care about each other.”

The stakes were high, but the experience created an even more tightknit ARH community.

Sonya’s biggest life mentors are her parents. As an only child, they formed a strong bond teaching her the importance of hard work not just in her job, but in her relationships, as well. Their family motto was to love life and remember that God is in control of all situations. She has passed on this advice to her daughter, Ashley, who is currently enrolled at the University of Kentucky where she is pursuing a degree in biomedical engineering.

“That’s gratifying to me because she’s been exposed to the healthcare field and I think she knows that it’s a rewarding field to work in,” Sonya says. “I tell her, whether you’re a doctor, a nurse or an HR director, you have to do what inspires you. We just tell her to be compassionate, make time for God, family, your friends and be yourself. We make this joke saying, ‘put your work clothes on, dig in and go get it’ meaning show up prepared and always do your best.”

In her free time Sonya loves spending time with family and friends. Her family is famous for the Christmas party they host each year complete with a video invitation, over the top costumes, and great food. Aside from this annual event, Sonya runs every day, attends church regularly, and enjoys weekends at the lake.

“My mother always said, ‘Everything you do makes some kind of statement.’ Whether that be how you dress or how you answer the phone, but everything you do makes a statement,” Sonya says. “You still have to find a balance. I believe you show up for everything you do, [not just physically, but mentally] but you also have to find that balance and leave work at work.”

Sonya is a true example of the passion and dedication each and every ARH employee puts into their job. When asked what advice she had to offer to a young woman interested in entering the healthcare field, she had this to say:

“Go for it. I think you need to be confident and wear your passion right on your face. Be energetic, healthcare is a tough field to work in and no matter what role we play, we’ve got to show our confidence and passion. It’s important for young women to always ask for what they want. The worst answer they can get is no. Be bold and go for it! I love what I do. Truly, I’ll tell anybody that. You have to find something in your career that you are passionate about and that you love. If you don’t, then you need to find a new path because it’s not fair to you or the people you work for.”

ARH Women in Leadership Series: Susan Stewart

The women in leadership for Appalachian Regional Healthcare are a diverse group of strong, accomplished, intelligent women. In addition to sharing these common characteristics, each is unique, taking on a completely different set of responsibilities and challenges when she walks through the doors of ARH each day. From administrative responsibilities, to nursing and caring for patients, to the creation of new initiatives allowing ARH’s reach to grow, these women are nothing short of remarkable.

Susan Stewart, System Director of Home Services leads all efforts comprising the home services umbrella, which includes 10 home health agencies and 11 homecare stores.

“My team isn’t down the hallway from me every day,” Susan says. “Listening and recognizing that sometimes you need to be a leader and sometimes you need to be a teammate are very important.”

Before Susan joined ARH, during her first year after college, she utilized her accounting degree preparing taxes, and the following seven years she worked for a locally owned telephone company. Knowing the two major employers in the area are ARH and the school system, Susan took a leap of faith and began applying for jobs with ARH.

“It took me several months of applying for positions at ARH before I was hired. I just kept trying because I knew if I could get my foot in the door, I could find a path,” Susan says. “I didn’t pick homecare; homecare picked me.”

Twenty years later, Susan still believes applying to ARH was one of the best decisions she ever made. Today, Susan is responsible for more than 200 home care employees, and she says her favorite thing about her job is the people she works with every day and knowing we make a difference in the lives of our patients.

“Another important reward of my job is knowing that our team has the unique opportunity to provide important services to patients in their home environment with their family by their side,” Susan says.

Working in healthcare for 20 years, Susan has experienced many unusual situations.  One particular story of impact has stuck with her. On Friday, March 2, 2012, a tornado hit West Liberty in Morgan County, one of the 12 ARH communities. The home health agency and homecare store were destroyed.

“Our property may have been destroyed, but my team was intact,” Susan says. We were able to assemble everyone in another ARH community and recreate all the records. By Sunday afternoon, we had them back up and running, knowing exactly what they needed to do for every patient. We didn’t miss a beat; every patient was seen. This is a benefit of being part of the ARH system; everyone helps one another.”

Susan’s perseverance is a direct reflection of the advice her mother, and most pivotal role model, instilled in her from a young age.

“I was the youngest of three with two older brothers,” Susan says. “Being the only girl made me a bit spoiled, but my brothers didn’t cut me any slack. I had to learn to hold my own, fight for what I wanted, and not let anyone tell me I couldn’t do something. My mom taught me that anything worth having isn’t easy; and if I was willing to invest the time and effort, I could be anything I wanted to be.”

This advice created a strong drive and determination in Susan throughout her career. Susan passed these words of encouragement on to her daughter, Taylor, who recently graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with a degree in education.

“I told her, ‘You’ve been placed there for a reason. Embrace it,” Susan says. “If you can’t be anything else, be kind because you have no idea what those kids are going through outside the walls of the classroom.”

While Susan is not one to take the easy way out, she has learned throughout the years the importance of taking a break. She loves going to sporting events, (especially University of Kentucky football games) and jamming out to Garth Brooks, whom she has seen in concert at least nine times.

“I try to recognize when I need a break and then take it. Healthcare is very fast paced. I am blessed because I have a great team which gives me peace of mind when I’m away.”

When asked what advice she had to offer a young woman interested in entering the healthcare field, Susan had this to say:

“Work smarter, not necessarily harder. Knowledge is power. Find what you’re passionate about and learn everything you can about it. I tell my team, ‘You can do it the long way the first time, the second time it’ll get easier, but by the third time you should have it down pat!’ That’s what I mean by work smarter. It’s not always necessarily about 80 hours per week. It’s about what you can get done and the quality of work you produce.”

ARH is proud to have such a dedicated, hardworking employee as Susan Stewart who keeps Home Services running smoothly in order to meet the needs of the many people we serve.  Stay tuned for more stories of the remarkable women in leadership at ARH.

Union College partners with Appalachian Regional Healthcare

Published onNovember 06, 2018

Union College is pleased to announce the recent corporate partnership between the Division of Online and Graduate Studies and Appalachian Regional Healthcare.

Through the Corporate Partner Program, Union College will become a preferred education partner for Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) employees. In return, ARH employees will receive a tuition discount on courses and programs offered by the Union College Division of Online and Graduate Studies.

ARH is a not-for-profit health system serving 350,000 residents across Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia. With more than 5,000 employees and a network of more than 600 active medical staff members, ARH is the largest provider of care and single largest employer in southeastern Kentucky and the third-largest private employer in southern West Virginia. ARH operates hospitals in Barbourville, Harlan, Hazard, Hyden, Martin, McDowell, Middlesboro, West Liberty, South Williamson and Whitesburg, Kentucky, and Beckley and Hinton, West Virginia.

“This is an exciting partnership for Union College as we strive to provide quality education to those in our region,” said Dr. David Williams, Dean of Online and Graduate Studies at Union College. “Union offers a variety of graduate programs, but our new Master of Science in Healthcare Administration (MHCA) program should prove especially beneficial to ARH employees.”

Designed to target the needs of healthcare professionals entering or planning to enter the field of healthcare administration, the MHCA follows courses ranging from Evidence-based Healthcare and Informatics to Ethics and Social Responsibility.

All of Union College’s online programs are offered in convenient 8-week courses with multiple admission dates throughout the year. Union College’s 10-course MHCA, MBA, MS in Administration, and MS in Athletic Administration programs can be completed in 5 terms. Union College offers fully-online undergraduate programs in Business, Management, Law Enforcement, and Substance Abuse Counseling.

For more information about Union College, visit

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