It all started when someone tweeted the link to a video entitled, “It Takes a Community.” Curious, I clicked on the link to watch it. The video starts off like many promotional videos but about 30 seconds into this video, I realized there was something very special going on here. The sincerity and authenticity of the people being interviewed was very real. Their passion and love for the people they are serving was riveting. Read on…
As promised, VolunCheerLeader.com will highlight great volunteer programs and promote the idea that volunteers, i.e., “super” volunteers can take on increased responsibilities to become a trained and meaningful support for professional care staff who are often stressed and overworked, with residents, patients who suffer from what Dr. Bill Thomas calls the “Three Plagues: boredom, uselessness and loneliness.”
Daily, I’m on social media watching for hints of such programs and to my great delight, this title appeared in Twitter: “Volunteer Service for Nursing Home Residents.” I immediately clicked on it, and discovered Emilie Strommen Olsen, senior program designer for DesignIt. She and her team developed a nursing home volunteer program for a facility in Kristiansund, Norway. I immediately emailed her and arranged a Skype interview with her and the administrator of the nursing home, Stephanie Helland.
Dr. Bill Thomas talks about the “Three Plagues of the Nursing Home, boredom, uselessness, and loneliness.” This is exactly what was happening at Stephanie’s facility. The residents were not engaged, they sat day in and day out with little or no activity. The staff observing this, felt frustrated and sad as they were only able to meet the very basic needs of the older adults under their care. Because of that Emilie says they would express remorse, a sense of guilt because they felt as if they were not doing enough – that they couldn’t give the people what they really needed – time and friendship. The families of the residents expressed the same sense of helplessness and ask:
Can’t someone do something about this?
Emilie took on the challenge and began with assigning some “homework” to the staff, the residents and the families. She ask them: “What kind of volunteer services do you want?” The answer was crystal clear:
“We want just one person to talk to and do “normal” stuff, not big activities where everyone participates at once.”
With that, then Emilie’s team went to work using the input she received from the three stakeholders. It was critical that the staff be involved in this process early so as to get buy-in from the staff.
“It was really one of the success factors, that at the start, the staff was involved all the time during the process…so that they felt that they owned it.”
Emilie developed a matrix with staff member positions in rows and responsibilities in the columns. Everyone had a role to play, in the process from interviewing the volunteer candidate to orienting them to the nursing home environment to assigning them to an area of the nursing home and finally staff and volunteers meeting periodically for followup.
Stephanie said that the implementation was very smooth. She laughed and said: “It was almost done without anyone noticing!” A large chart was posted to inform both the staff and volunteers of their responsibilities, who would be volunteering that week and who they would be visiting.
During the test period, Stephanie did hear concerns from the staff that the volunteers might be taking over their tasks and thus eliminating the need for staff. She assured them that this was not the case. The volunteers were there to provide emotional support and meaningful activities that would promote their sense of well-being and quality of life.
Once the staff understood what was happening they began to realize that the volunteer was indeed opening up more time for them by occupying the residents. The staff felt welcomed relief.
Emilie and Stephanie highlighted some important lessons learned so far:
- Volunteers want to feel welcomed and appreciated.
- Volunteers want to be guided by the staff
As a result, one of the volunteer positions is to be the “volunteer greeter.” As volunteers arrive for their visit, a veteran volunteer greets them!
Volunteers wear a button that has a red heart on it. This way the staff and older adults know that this is a volunteer. The professional staff wear a button with a blue heart.
I asked Stephanie to describe the typical volunteer. She explained that they are getting people of all ages, from 16 years of age and up, mothers on maternity leave who want to still feel like they can make a difference, and retirees who bring their skills and expertise to their volunteer experience.
One volunteer explained that he was in the process of looking for a new job, one that wouldn’t interfere with his nursing home visits.
“Volunteering is an emerging concept in Norway,” says Emilie. “Places like Britain have a long rich history of volunteerism but for us it is a new trend. People are asking: ‘How can I be a resource?’ ‘How can I give to my society?'”
Finally, I asked Stephanie if the volunteer program has made a real impact. “Definitely! We’ve seen changes in our residents. One of our patients with dementia will talk even hours later about the visit she had with her ‘buddy.’ Other patients will say:
Today my buddy is coming to visit me, only me, just to me…”
For the staff, Stephanie says there has been a definite change in the way they think about volunteers. They told me, “If we are going to prioritize some positions, we have to prioritize a volunteer coordinator, because that is such important work.
We’d rather you prioritize the volunteer coordinator than a nurse.”
For me, it was a great thrill to see this group discover the positive impact volunteers can have on the staff, on the people for whom they care, and their families and loved ones. It’s important to note that the success of this program is due to querying the stakeholders, collecting their ideas, careful program development to address the expressed needs of the stakeholders, and then gaining the confidence of the staff through their involvement in program development from the beginning.
Thank you Stephanie for meeting the challenge and for being an important factor in the emerging idea that volunteers can make a real difference. And thank you Emilie for guiding them through this process. I’m sure there will be follow ups to this story!
If you known of a great volunteer program, please let me know. Let’s come together, here at VolunCheerLeader.com to promote an expanded role for volunteers and the creation of what I call the “super” volunteer!
Feel free to email me with your VolunCheerLeader story at: firstname.lastname@example.org
As you know, VolunCheerLeader is on a quest to identify and highlight outstanding volunteer programs. My journey is taking to me many different places to include Auckland, New Zealand. Recently, while explaining my mission to someone they immediately piped up and said, “You have to meet Jill Woodward, CEO of Elizabeth Knox Nursing Home and Hospital. After a series of emails, we scheduled a telephone call (Skype) and to no real surprise to me, the person who answered the call, Jill, was obviously full of passion, high energy and expert in her work. I spent about an hour talking with her. Later, I had the pleasure of meeting the Kristen O’Reilly, newly appointed to head Community Partnerships. Kristen was originally hired to develop the volunteer program for Knox. Here are excerpts from my communications with them. Read more…
One of the first questions I get from owner/operators of nursing homes concerning volunteers is, “What about liability?”
My response: “What about it?” How many people are working in nursing homes today who have never had a course in gerontology? How many people are on nursing home floors right now providing cares for which they received no training or the person before them “trained” them in “this is how I do it.” How many lawsuits are currently being levied at long-term care facilities. Now before you send me your email about how many great people are working in nursing homes, save it. I know this from first-hand experience. In the 25 years or so of working with the long-term care community, maybe I’ve met five people who I thought were in the wrong job.
My point is that the answer to the liability question is “thorough vetting, quality training and treating and valuing volunteers as employees.”
With that said, I know from experience that there are people in our communities that are willing to be thoroughly vetted and trained being motivated not by the need for income but rather their need to engage in a meaningful way by giving back to their communities while sharing a passion for serving older adults. I would suggest that this person, this volunteer, will present less of liability problem than paid staff. Now if you’re going to send me email about volunteers replacing paid staff, save it.
We’re now approaching 1.2 million vacancies in long-term care staffing.
The ship is sinking. We need all hands on deck. We need to take advantage of every resource that is available to us, to include what I call “trusted” volunteers.
Ok, go ahead send me your comments and emails anyway.
Really, I would like to hear your thoughts on this topic. Email me at: email@example.com
The history of volunteers and their role in nursing homes is of great interest to me at the moment. I’m writing about the evolution of the volunteer role in nursing homes before and after the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987.
There is no doubt that the NHRA brought about significant and positive changes to the way older adults were viewed and how they received care.
However did we inadvertently hamstring nursing home volunteers in the process?
I think we did. From my experience in training what I am now calling “super” volunteers, I’ve learned these volunteers could be doing so much more to support the nursing home staff. All they need is quality training. Over the years, I have reviewed the volunteer training literature of many nursing homes. I’ve discovered that not even the basics of the aging process are covered in that training or what the nursing home experience is like for the older adult much less adding training for certain skills. And in many cases there is no training at all!
“There are people in our communities who have a strong passion for older adults and have a strong commitment to serve them.”
Looking at the current nursing home staffing crisis, can we afford not to take advantage of every resource that is available to us? If providing “person-centered” care is truly our goal, then who is in a better position to provide that individualized attention? Even though care staff receive training in how to provide person-centered care, the stark reality is they don’t have time to provide that kind of care. Short staffing prevents them from doing so.
Volunteers have the luxury of time.
I need your help. If you, or if you know of someone who worked as an administrator, director of nursing, volunteer coordinator, or activity director during the days prior to the Nursing Home Reform Act (prior to 1987), please have them contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I want to learn as much as I can about the role volunteers played during those days and how their roles changed after 1987.
Thanks and have a great week!
Discovering volunteers as a work-ready resource for nursing homes.
Delivering quality, “person-centered” care is a global need. People from around the world will gather here to collaborate, and to promote the “super” volunteer, the “credentialed” volunteer for nursing homes.
Wherever there are nursing homes, whether in U.S. or the UK, there is a ever growing need for highly trained, highly committed, compassionate, passionate volunteers serving older adults in nursing homes. For the foreseeable future, severe staffing shortages will jeopardize the ability of nursing homes to provide quality care. But, there are people in our communities who care about the living conditions older adults are facing. They care very much. They have the capacity to learn new skills. They possess a strong passion for older adults and they are willing to be trained and serve along side professional staff, not to replace them, but to support them. They do this as a way to give back to their communities while satisfying a deep desire to serve.
Volun-Cheer-Leader will spotlight people and organizations who share this same zeal and are already engaged in expanding the role of volunteers in nursing homes. In addition, Volun-Cheer-Leader will present best practices, current research and guest bloggers. This is an exciting start to what I believe is an ever increasing critical component in the delivery of long-term care.
Please join me by subscribing to this blog and join the conversation! I’m looking forward to meeting all of you! Please feel free to email me, offer your comments and share you thoughts about creating “credentialed” volunteers for nursing homes!
Have a great week!