Synchronicity: A reader commented on one of my recent blog posts, saying that nursing assistants need assistants of their own and noting the improvement volunteers can make in the quality of life in a nursing home. The next morning I read a post on my town message board asking about volunteer opportunities over the holidays, saying that the soup kitchens tend to have too many offers of service and turn people away. I responded by suggesting neighbors consider volunteering at the local nursing home, pointing out how much it’s appreciated by the residents and including a link to my post 10 Great Reasons to Volunteer in a Nursing Home. This weekend I ran into a friend of mine with two young children. She said she’d read my local message board post and was going to bring her children to volunteer at the home. She’d helped nursing home residents as a youngster, really enjoyed it, and wanted to give her kids the opportunity.
So I was thinking: What if we all did this? What if all of us nursing home workers suggested to our neighbors that they might enjoy volunteering in the local facility? Maybe we’d increase the volunteerism not necessarily in our own place of work, but in nursing homes in general.
20 thoughts on “Nursing Home Volunteer: ‘Tis the Season to Encourage Volunteerism”
It is very encouraging to me to see you promoting volunteerism in nursing homes. I recruit and train volunteers for nursing homes in my area. Seeing the direction long-term care funding and staffing is taking, there is no doubt in my mind that the volunteer will play a critical and vital role in the care of our elders over the next several decades. I am a doctoral student at the University of Nebraska, gerontology, and am now at point of narrowing down my choice for a dissertation topic. I’d love to have the opportunity to discuss some of my ideas with you and get feedback from you.
Paul, it’s great to hear your enthusiasm for volunteerism. I imagine your nursing home experiences offer plenty of fodder for dissertation topics. It’s a fascinating area of study with the potential to be helpful in concrete, practical ways for clinicians and other staff in the field. I’ll respond privately to your email on that.
Volunteers in our facility are definitely an asset to our residents. Often, however, nursing homes, have policies regarding who can volunteer and what services may be performed.
We have three different types of volunteers, spiritual volunteers, volunteer groups, and individual volunteers. The spiritual volunteers are associated with local churches, providing services, Eucharistic visits, and spiritual visits. The volunteer groups are primarily kids, high school and younger. We have a “Grandparents” program with a local high school and younger kids often come in as part of a school trip, usually performing for various holidays.
Our individual volunteers must go through an interview and screening process prior to service. After being accepted, all must go through a fairly lengthy orientation process. As in other facilities I have worked, most are careful in regard to who is let into the building to volunteer. Nursing home residents are typically at risk for being taken advantage of and are at an increased risk of abuse. Due to both the lengthy screening and orientation process, our facility requires that volunteers commit to a minimum of 50 hours of service.
In short, while volunteers are a huge help and provide a valuable service to nursing home residents, precautions must be taken regarding who comes in to contact with this extremely vulnerable population.
Thanks for elaborating, Sue, on the types of volunteers at your facility. I would hope that potential volunteers understand the need for screening, The rewards of volunteering in a nursing home far outweigh the time and inconvenience of the screening process. Those who are unsure if nursing home volunteerism is a good fit for them might be better off working with a group that volunteers in different types of settings, like New York Cares, and then if nursing homes don’t appeal to them, they can move to a different option without having to undergo a new screening process.
Are you, or any of your readers, aware of a law that prevents volunteers (non-students) from volunteering in a private, for profit, facility?
I hadn’t heard of this, Anonymous, but see Genie’s reply below.
I , too, am a Recreation Director. Carefully building a committed volunteer corp within the SNF setting can indeed be very challenging and labor intensive. What continues to baffle me is that if added manpower is needed in other departments, the department heads are not strongly advised to recruit volunteers to fill the void in their departments. They typically HIRE someone. Historically, Recreation departments have had to rely on volunteers for additional help and quite frankly management takes full advantage of this “tradition”. Hence, paid staffing ratios in our (recreation dept) departments are inadequate.
As the above poster stated the recruiting process/screening/orientation/training requires added time that many overworked Recreation Directors simply do not have.(especially to do the job right) This is where a dedicated, paid Director of Volunteers could be so valuable. I have also found that if you make the process of becoming a volunteer encumbered with too much information, restrictions, procedures, TB screenings….etc, etc…potentially you can “scare away” volunteers. They are giving you free time. We should make the screening process not SO overwhelming for them.
If you have someone volunteering because it is a court mandated community service sentence it usually means that they must serve in a not for profit facility, I always tell these applicants to check with the court before they commit to us because we are for profit. I usually never hear back from them.
How would you feel about a nonprofit organization led by long-term care professionals outside of the facility that would taking on the task of recruiting, screening and training volunteers and then sending them to you.
This is how I am posturing myself and our nonprofit. My goal is to lift some of the burden that you mentioned above associated with building a volunteer program. I would be interested in your reaction to such an idea.
I totally agree that a paid Director of Volunteers is a worthy investment for any facility.
In almost all facilities I have worked, volunteers have worked almost soley with the recreation department. The reason for this is a union issue, facilities can not engage volunteers in work that is a typical responsibility of a paid staff member. In other words, for example, if volunteers were recruited to assist the housekeeping department, the facility would probably not need as many paid staff positions.
Whether or not a facility has an active volunteer department or not, my experience has always been recreation departments are understaffed. The reality is, recreation/leisure activities are not a reimbursable expense in nursing homes. While activities must be provided, facilities tend to hire only the minimum amount of staff.
I agree with Dr. El, recreation departments definitely need research showing the financial benefits of increased staffing.
Genie, I agree with you — paid volunteer coordinators are worth their weight in gold. I blogged on that last year: Why Every Nursing Home Should Have a Volunteer Coordinator (and what they do). Recreation departments could use some research showing how participation in activities reduces costs in other areas, such as antidepressant medication, or social work time, and then more funds will flow into staffing the departments. Meanwhile, I’m working on some ideas to help recreation departments increase their value to the nursing home. I’ll let you know when I’ve put them up in the Products tab.
Paul, I have often thought that CMS who dictates regulations and demand paper documentation compliance pay attention to the unrealistic expectations that understaffed facilities must adhere to. Simply put, nursing home staff cannot tend to the “little things” The State needs to be held accountable for this, as well. The State needs to be collaborative and less punitive when it comes to faulting a facility for not “crossing a t or dotting an i”. Maybe it was because a staff member was tending to that “little thing” that required time and forgot to “dot the i.” This business of “if it is not written down , it didn’t happen” is downright wrong! Often, what evolves, is well meaning staff who are so conflicted and frustrated, can, over time, “escape” with their heads down and pen in hand ,documenting, as a way of avoiding/ignoring the “little things” that a Residents so craves. SO , YES and YES to initiating some kind of organization that is designed specifically to train /recruit/place volunteers specific to SNF’s.
I had this “cock a mainie” idea some time back that the State should mandate that white collar criminals who are actually doing time in Jail, who pass psychological screening, who are motivated and maybe supervised by a “guard” could do their “day time” volunteering ( bus back to prison at night…..heheheh) in a nursing home instead of sitting on their “duffs” all day. Crazy, I know, but honestly, we have to start “thinking out of the box”!!!! And as crazy as this sounds, Nursing Home Residents and prisoners have some ” little things” in common.
We have no union workers. I see nothing wrong with having volunteer housekeepers. Again, for me another solid reason to have a Director of Volunteers. Some volunteer folks would LIKE to be “housekeepers” or maybe like to clean wheelchairs, or maybe like to work in the laundry. Added manpower has a “trickle down” effect. It frees up paid staff to be more authentic , available and able to listen and engage with Residents!
Dr. El, Thank you for all the work you do with this blog and your ideas that initiate research which could yield an end result in increasing Quality of LIFE not just CARE for our Residents!
PS Yes, “Tis the Season” to inspire Volunteerism, but sometimes I get so many who are interested in volunteering only during this “season of joy and holidays, I can’t handle them. I wish we could get them spread out evenly over all 4 Seasons….. HA HA and Fa la la la la……
I think it depends also on the nature of the task(s) and how much direct contact volunteers will have with residents and/or their protected health information. In one of the places I used to work at, we’d bring our institutionalized volunteers to visit other facilities (e.g., an orphanage or nursing home.) Our folks were closely supervised and typically they were only engaging in chores such as cleaning and giving out Christmas gifts.
Genie, it’s very true that sometimes holiday volunteers can be overwhelming. As a long-time volunteer in several organizations, sometimes I was in the position of training holiday volunteers who never became “regulars” (i.e., training time wasted.) Other times, I would offer to take time off if they ended up with too many volunteers near Thanksgiving. It’s VERY tough to be a volunteer coordinator (both paid and unpaid) and it’s tougher when the social worker, rec therapist, or another allied professional has to double as the volunteer coordinator.
Another idea related to volunteerism is to engage residents as volunteers. Volunteerism has been found in research to improve older adults’ sense of mastery, control, well being (and all the good stuff.) I know there will be rules to abide by; I am not suggesting that one resident help feed another. But as far as planning of rec activities or special events are concerned, I know residents light up when they are given the opportunity to offer their ideas, teach a class, be the MC… Depending on whether it’s viewed as empowerment or exploitation, perhaps you can invite your residents to design the holiday greeting cards/ newsletter. At one day care center, we used to ask our clients to stuff envelops and staple newsletters…
C- Giving the residents volunteer opportunities allows them the chance to showcase skills, give back to society, feel they have a purpose, etc. As one resident of mine used to say, “Amen to that!”
Thanks, Genie, and others, for your comments. They make the blog come alive.
This is probably a dumb question but do you get paid for this volunteer work?
Volunteer positions are not paid jobs, but they do offer great experience and pay off in other ways besides financially.
Hello Dr. El,
I do hope you are still on this blog as I am finding it very helpful. I recently, within the last 5 months, started a new position as Director of Volunteer Services. Previously in my career, I was in the staffing industry for 14 1/2 years. I was hired due to my recruiting background, however; that was largely due to a layoff and a friend hiring me for this current role. My challenge is that I also handle transportation for the whole campus! I am consistently interrupted by all the nursing units for the resident transportation requests. I feel that I am providing disservice to my new role as I have not had much time to develop my volunteer base. My supervisor does not understand or want to listen to my challenges. I love my current volunteers and was successful in hosting my first volunteer recognition brunch as well as a fundraiser for the nursing home. I do apologize that this is so lengthy but I wondered if you had come across my scenario and how can one successfully retain and grow a volunteer program? Thanks so much for listening!
Hi Angela, with your volunteer recognition brunch and a fundraiser, perhaps you’re doing better with your volunteer program than you think. It could be helpful to set up a system for your transportation requests so that they aren’t interrupting your volunteer work — such as using email or a memo staff could submit, having transportation request “office” hours, or having mornings for volunteer work and afternoons for transportation, etc. That way they’d know you are available but you’d have some control over your time. Good luck!