Why Every Nursing Home Should Have a Volunteer Coordinator (and what they do)

In addition to meeting the needs of residents, enhancing community relations, and increasing the visibility of and referrals to the nursing home, Volunteer Coordinators provide a huge bang for the buck.

Ellen Stein, Director of Volunteer Services at the Cabrini Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in New York City, shares her secrets for obtaining 600 hours of weekly volunteer work for every 20 hours she puts into her job.

Dr. El: What do you do as Director of Volunteer Services?

ES: I recruit volunteers, interview them, orient them to the nursing home, place them in a department best suited to their abilities and interests, and provide ongoing training and supervision.

Dr. El: What qualities should nursing homes look for in hiring a volunteer coordinator?

ES: It helps to have an outgoing personality, and to enjoy engaging with people.

Dr. El: How do you get your volunteers?

ES: Believe it or not, most of my volunteers these days come from the computer. I have four listings at a volunteer site at nyc.gov for different locations and aspects of the volunteer program. One of the listings got 5,000 hits last year. [I didn’t try it with every state, of course, but if you Google “volunteer” and your state, you should come up with a site where volunteer opportunities can be offered/reviewed.]

Dr. El: What kind of jobs do people do as volunteers?

ES: Mostly they’re involved with Recreation activities, like bingo, adaptive sports, and parties. Other volunteers visit the residents and act as “listening ears.” Some volunteers, who often have a particular religious affiliation or organization, help with pastoral care. While Cabrini is a Catholic facility, we have residents from many faiths, and we have volunteers providing Buddhist and Jewish services. One of our hairdressers is a volunteer. [Hairdressing is a great service to provide, as some residents have no income at all and can’t afford the regular stylist on site.]

We also have corporate volunteers, where employees of the company come in to run special activities several times a year. They even give holiday gifts, because as you know, some of the residents have no families to give them presents.

In addition, members of a local church are very involved with the residents, visiting regularly, running a street fair once a year, and even taking the residents out to dinner on occasion.

Dr. El: What do you look for in a volunteer?

ES: The best volunteers are reliable, honest, open people who are there to make a difference for the residents.

Occasionally I’ve had to “fire” someone because they didn’t understand the importance of keeping the residents’ information private, or because they spoke to me disrespectfully. If someone’s treating me disrespectfully, I can’t trust they’re treating the residents with respect when I’m not around.

Dr. El: You’re obviously passionate about your work. What do you like most about being Director of Volunteer Services?

ES: I have a very abundant life, and I feel it’s important to share my good fortune with others. It gives me great joy to help the residents, who are so appreciative of the smallest things. I might sing someone a song, or push a someone in a wheelchair to religious services, and you’d think I’d given them the world.

10 thoughts on “Why Every Nursing Home Should Have a Volunteer Coordinator (and what they do)”

  1. My community has a great Director of Volunteer Services. His secret to success seems to be finding people's innate talents and matching it with a genuine need. Trying to make a need for a volunteer to meet their personal fulfillment rarely benefits any party involved.

    Thanks for the insight.

  2. Dr. El,
    Whether the person is a "religious" volunteer, a student fulfilling community service requirements, or a member of the community wishing to help, volunteers play an important role in the nursing home. While volunteers are often instrumental in assisting the recreation department in organized programming, they are vital in giving residents in need, that extra bit of attention, assistance and stimulation.

    I think many facilities think of Volunteer Service Coordinator positions as a luxury, while they might provide a "huge bang for the buck," coupling the position with another, provides enough of a bang for the buck.

  3. Good to hear from you, Matt. I agree, the best matches between residents and volunteers meet the needs of everyone involved. As my old supervisor used to say, "There's a lid for every pot."

    Sue, volunteers are so appreciated by the communities, and can often provide services busy staff members are unable to offer. In my experience, someone who works almost exclusively as a Volunteer Coordinator is able to create a depth of programming far greater than an employee with other job responsibilities. In Ellen Stein's case, for example, the position is part-time, and her top priority is the volunteer program.

  4. What is your perspective on using familes as volunteers? Pros and Cons of having family members of residents volunteer with a nursing home or other long-term care community.

  5. HI Anonymous,

    That's a good question and I mulled it over and spoke with a colleague about it. My reaction is based largely on my training to avoid "dual roles." For example, it's considered improper for me to be the psychotherapist of someone who is also a coworker. It could also create problems at work and in the therapy. Imagine if I had to ask my coworker for help with a project, but I knew from being his therapist that he was feeling overwhelmed.

    While it's not the same situation, it does offer some guidelines. I consider family members to have an essential role within the nursing home as a team member and resident advocate. If they also take on the role of volunteer, it's possible it could create challenging situations that make their advocacy role difficult.

    That said, I think it would be great if family members came back to volunteer after their loved one left the facility. (We miss you!) They might also consider joining or starting a Family Council while their loved one is still a resident. That's a great way of contributing to the nursing home. There are a couple of guest posts on Family Councils on this blog, written by Karlin Mbah of Friends & Relatives of the Institutionalized Aged. Type "family councils" into the Search This Blog Box in the right sidebar and the posts will come up.

  6. I've been volunteering at the Cabrini Center for 8 years and just love being a small part of their community. One of the reasons I love it so much is because Ellen is such a lovely woman, and so energetic and fun. I wish every nursing home could have an Ellen Stein!

    Katie Hustead

  7. Katie, I'm guessing it's volunteers like you that help keep Ellen feeling energetic and enthusiastic about her position. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  8. I am trying to lobby my Executive Director to support a P/T Volunteer Director for my CCRC. I am trying to convince him that as a Recreation Director I simply do not have the time to recruit, train and target prospective volunteers talents and abilities into the right venus. By venues, I mean, that it is not only Recreation that can benefit from volunteers. All Departments could!!!! After a year or two of developing a comprehensive volunteer program, my thought is you could get added manpower at no extra cost.


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