Discovering the word for compassion in Hawaiian tradition…
I’ve written a few articles on compassion, and so for this one, I decided to do something a little different. I began by pulling up the word compassion on the internet to see what would pop up. My search produced a window with the definition of compassion, and then a “translate ‘compassion’ to” another language box appeared.
I started translating compassion into various languages starting with Afrikaans “medelye,” to Albanian “dhembshuri,” to German “barmherzigkeit,” Haitian Creole “konpasyon,” and then Hawaiian “aloha.” I stopped there because I was always under the impression that the expression “aloha” was an Hawaiian greeting and further research shows that indeed it is. But, I went on to discover that “aloha” means so much more.
Aloha has a deep cultural and spiritual significance…
As it turns out “aloha” has several meanings to include: love, affection, peace, compassion, and mercy. But to native Hawaiians it has a “deeper cultural and spiritual significance.” To them it also means “to be in the presence of divinity or in the presence of (alo) the “divine breath of life” (Ha). Discovering the phrase “…the power of Aloha…” really piqued my curiosity.
When I searched that phrase, I found “The Power of Aloha: The Hawaiian Guide to Love, Health, and Wealth” by Kala H. Kos and John Selby. With that, I accomplished what I was hoping to gain, i.e., a new insight into the word compassion.
“…the joyful sharing of life in the present moment…”
and Shelby present the traditional meaning of “aloha” as“the joyful sharing of life in the present moment.” Reading that, brought to mind how many times I’ve
spoken to groups about living in the present or practicing the art of presence.
I don’t know if I could think of a better or more accurate way to describe the
exchange that takes place between the visiting volunteer and the nursing home
“…our hearts are singing together…”
Going even deeper, the meaning of “aloha” includes “our hearts are singing together.” Thinking of the relationships and shared experiences that I have had over the years with the people living in nursing homes, I believe this phrase accurately describes what we felt in those moments. Our hearts were singing together.
“…to be joyful together and filled with the breath of life…”
the richness of “aloha” does not end there. The root “ha” means “breath of life.” And so the meaning of “aloha” expands even further
to mean: “…to be joyful together and
filled with the breath of life.” Compassion, “aloha” is to be joyful together
and filled with the breath of life. I’m pretty sure this has an impact on a
nursing home’s star rating. Aloha.
Contact me for more information about how you, as a volunteer can become the “the breath of life” to someone living in a nursing home – or –
If you manage a nursing home volunteer program and want to explore this further, contact me to learn how I can be of help to you. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Not surprisingly, one of the first objections I get for promoting and creating robust volunteer programs for long-term care communities is that it appears that I’m supporting the use of free labor. Nothing could be further from my mind! For sure, there are a lot of regulations and laws governing the use of volunteers but that should not deter you from creating and taking full advantage of a strong volunteer program.
For this reason, I’ve made it my mission to identify and highlight nursing home volunteer programs that have successfully created positive and sustaining partnerships between nursing home paid staff and volunteers. In these programs, paid staff and volunteers compliment one another rather than compete with each other. The professional staff view and embrace their volunteers as an indispensable component for providing great and personalized care. Rather than seeing the volunteers as free labor to be exploited, the staff welcomes them as their working partners. The volunteer is an integral part of the care team and thus rejecting that “us and them” culture.
Like any great program, great volunteer programs do not
happen overnight. Successful volunteer programs like the those that
I’ve written about or witnessed first-hand require a careful, sober, well-thought-out, intentional effort guided by professional
volunteer managers. The process of
creating and sustaining a successful volunteer program involves everyone in the life of the nursing home beginning with the
management team, the medical staff, the housekeepers, the dietitians, the social workers, and life enrichment coordinators to name a few.
Working with the Department of Labor, unions if they are involved, and other regulatory bodies such as Health and Human Services, in the development of your volunteer program, and the volunteer job descriptions will ensure that duties assigned to the volunteers are not in violation of labor laws and do not give the appearance of replacing staff with free labor. In talking with the Baycrest Health, Director of Volunteers, Janis Sternhill at Baycrest Health in Toronto, during my visit, she said that in 30 years of their volunteer program history, there might have been two or three times when their labor union objected to a job description, but working together they were able to resolve those issues.
After 25 years of recruiting and training volunteers for nursing homes and witnessing first-hand the impact of outstanding and well-managed nursing home volunteer programs, I am confident in my claim that nursing home owner/operators would do well to make serious investments in their volunteer programs. Current research shows that when you can discover and address the underlying individual needs and desires of the people under your care, you will likely be providing not only quality care but you will be maximizing their quality of life as well, and that means improving customer satisfaction and positive outcomes for them and for your professional staff.
A “listening ear”
Certainly, there is no doubt that the professional staff must be trained to garner to have this deeper level of insight into their resident’s lives and what matters to them. However, the reality is that time may not be on their side. Recently, while visiting someone in a nursing home, the hallway outside the person’s room I was visiting, was chaotic as calls lights were going off, and aides were running about trying to meet everyone’s needs. Discovering underlying needs is one area where volunteers can be very effective. They can be trained to befriend and learn what matters to the person they are visiting. They, the volunteer becomes the “listening ear,” learning and then if appropriate and respecting confidentiality, relaying what they have learned to the professional staff.
Beyond being present for your people, staff in the exemplary programs were surveyed as to what help a volunteer could be trained to provide, again without violating labor laws and or giving the appearance of exploiting people as free labor. From the programs that I have had the privilege of studying, the director of volunteers give the new volunteer a general orientation and training. The volunteer is then asked as to what department or area of the nursing home they would like to be involved. With that knowledge, the volunteer manager then works with the staff in that area to discover what their needs are and how the volunteer may complement their effort.
Finally, the volunteer program is not about free labor, it’s about providing community support, for an often overwhelmed care staff. The volunteer program is about exposing people from the community at-large to the long-term care community and like me, and many other people for that matter, going on to become more deeply involved. Lastly, the volunteer program broadcasts the message, “We care. We care enough to go the extra mile to make sure that the people in our care have the very best and that includes great volunteers who have the ‘luxury of time’ to give to your loved-ones.”
Let me help you!
If you would like to learn more about how I can help you create or enhance your nursing home volunteer program, please contact me. I would love the opportunity to help you.
For the past 25 years, I have been advocating for people to visit the people living in nursing homes. So often nursing home residents do not get visitors which may lead to feelings of loneliness and uselessness.
Over the last seven years I have been advocating for nursing homes to not only expand their volunteer programs but to expand the role of the volunteer in their nursing homes.
With the workforce shortage only growing more acute for the foreseeable future, I believe we need to develop and utilize every resource available to ensure that the people living in nursing homes are getting quality care and have quality of life.
Last year, I made it my mission to search out exemplar or premier volunteer programs and to highlight them at VolunCheerLeader.com. To-date I have identified several great programs, but now it is my extreme pleasure to report on and highlight, in my opinion, what I think might be the premier nursing home volunteer program boasting some 900 adult volunteers and 300 youth volunteers. However, it is going to be a bit of a chore for me to keep this article to a reasonable length. Advocates for volunteers will enjoy this reading on a remarkable volunteer program.
During March of 2016, I attended the American Society on Aging conference. I met several like-minded people also advocating for expanding the role of nursing home volunteers. During our conversations, I was encouraged by them to contact the director of volunteer services at Baycrest, in Toronto, Canada.
I contacted Syrelle Berstein. My initial conversations with Syrelle revealed that Baycrest has been training and recruiting volunteers to provide friendly visits, staff support, administrative support, and encouraging the volunteers to create and facilitate their own activities. I was anxious to go there and see the program first-hand.
Over the next several months, Syrelle retired and Janis Sternhill, M.Ed., stepped into the directorship. I stayed in touch with Syrelle and asked if she would facilitate my visit. She graciously agreed. During the week of June 11, 2017, Syrelle immersed me in the Baycrest culture of care and the Baycrest volunteer program. Having developed the program, she could highlight the salient aspects of the program.
On my first full day in Toronto, Syrelle picked me up at 10 a.m. at the apartment where I was staying, (I use Airbnb these days). We drove to the Baycrest campus which was just a few minutes away. As we entered the campus, I was immediately struck by the enormity of the operation. We drove by building after building, passed by a huge parking lot, and cruised alongside the Baycrest childcare center and then we reached the assisted living high-rise. We parked and began to walk towards the Apotex and Jewish Home for the Aged. I thought to myself, as Syrelle explained what was happening in each building, that this campus is not only comprised of all levels of care but it includes a research center and ties to the University of Toronto. In my mind, this is the perfect setup.
As we approached the glass doors, of the Apotex they automatically parted to the left and right, welcoming us into the foyer of the building. Syrelle logged in as she is now a volunteer herself. The tracking system keeps record of who is in the building and what they are doing.
For the volunteer coordinator, this is great as she can report on volunteer activity in near real time and collect data on the volunteer program.
Once Syrelle logged in, we turned to go through another set of glass doors. As they opened, what I saw literally took my breath away. Before me the ceiling burst upward into a large open area, an atrium that extended eight stories upward culminating into a magnificently sky lit ceiling. (see Figure 2) I was stunned! It was exhilarating! I looked at Syrelle in amazement and asked, “Is this the nursing home?” “Yes,” she said with a big smile. It took a few minutes for me to take it all in and to collect myself.
She then gently turned me to the left to see the area where residents, with the help of an army of volunteers, were creating various ceramic pieces and paintings (see Figure 3). This is where I met the first in a series of many Baycrest volunteers, each of them wearing the bright yellow “Baycrest – Volunteer” lanyard and identification badge. The finished items were on display in large picture windows, facing the interior of the atrium. They were quite colorful and added to the ambiance of this beautiful area.
Once I had regained the ability to breathe again, we moved on with our tour of the facility. It was unlike anything I had ever seen or even imagined in regards to a long-term care community.
As we walked and were greeted repeatedly by volunteers and staff, it soon became very apparent to me that Baycrest not only embraces the concept of person-centered care but has successfully created a wonderful authentic, relational culture that is felt from staff to resident, from staff to volunteer, from volunteer to volunteer, and from staff to staff. It was truly amazing. (Amazing was a word I found myself repeating numerous times throughout my stay).
Syrelle arranged for me to attend several of the activities that volunteers were facilitating or for which they were providing support. Our first stop was to a morning session led by a speech pathologist who was assisted by several Baycrest volunteers. In this case, the volunteers could encourage the residents to take part in the exercises while providing some level of comfort and trust for the resident. In some cases, residents feel more comfortable responding to volunteer requests more readily than staff.
Moving on, we attended a comedy hour conceived and facilitated by Baycrest volunteer, Murray. In his early years Murray was a stand-up comic traveling throughout the United States bumping shoulders with the likes of Alan King and Billy Crystal. Today, he was showing clips of his favorite comedians and sharing a few of his own jokes as well. The audience loved it. I’m certain that they received a healthy endorphin boost setting the tone for their upcoming lunch. Murray facilitates this activity weekly.
From there we toured the assisted living area and then had lunch with Larry, the Baycrest volunteer I met in the speech pathology session. From the volunteers that I had the opportunity to meet, Larry represents what I believe Baycrest is looking for in their volunteers, i.e., a high level of commitment, a warm and outgoing personality, possessing the skills to create and/or facilitate activities, having an authentic desire to make a difference in someone’s life, understanding the significance of what they are doing for the staff and residents and finally possessing a great sense of humor. There was a lot of smiling and laughing during my time at Baycrest.
I asked Larry how he came to volunteer at Baycrest. He told me that after retiring he wanted to stay engaged and was seeking out volunteer opportunities. After several unsuccessful tries at various agencies, Syrelle invited him to try Baycrest. That was two plus years ago. He admitted that initially his motivation was not altruistic but rather he just wanted something to do, something where he could make a difference.
Since then he has discovered the richness of volunteering and working with older adults. He recounted stories of his experiences and talked about how much he has learned from the people he has come to know. As with many volunteers, I have interviewed about their experience, Larry too, talked about how much he was getting from the experience and how good it made him feel. This is a theme that is repeated over and over, “I feel like I’m getting so much more than I’m giving.”
In meeting with the new director of volunteer services, Janis Sternhill, I was reminded again, how critical a great director of volunteers is to creating, growing, and maintaining a sustainable volunteer program. Janis’ experience and expert knowledge of volunteer management, research and her obvious passion for both the volunteers and the residents were unmistakable.
As Janis and I talked about the role of the volunteer, Janis addressed the fact volunteers have the time to sit with a resident, get to know them, their likes, their dislikes, their fears, and their joys. Volunteers get to know someone well enough to even know if a smile means they are really happy. “And it’s not just about the time, but it’s also about meeting that honest need to listen to people.”
She continues by saying that the staff are relieved knowing that the resident is relaxed when they go into their room. The resident has a good experience of feeling validated, acknowledged, and like a human being.
“We have volunteers that come onto units and staff cheer because they know the residents are going to be happy…and the staff can focus on those needing their attention.”
I asked Janis if they are measuring the impact of the volunteer visit and she said that the Baycrest researchers have finished two studies. The first two studies focused on the overall engagement of the resident, i.e., how often did they smile, how often did they speak, what were they doing before the volunteer came in, what did they do after the volunteer came in, and what activities were they doing.
The researchers also interviewed staff in the same manner, i.e., what was the staff doing before the volunteer arrived, what were they doing during and after the volunteer visit. Feedback from the staff was included as well, i.e., how was your experience with the volunteer, and what did you notice on the unit when the volunteers were present, what happens when the volunteers are not on the unit?
And in like manner, the volunteers were asked, “How do you feel when you come onto the unit?” “Do you feel a difference when you are with a resident?” A third study is in progress to collect data at the individual level.
Janis talked about all the tasks that volunteers are doing and/or assisting with behind the scenes.
“Right now, volunteers are assisting in collecting data for the client experience surveys. Our quality department could not do these surveys without the volunteers. They are highly trained and it is ongoing. They get a list of clients to survey and then conduct surveys to find out the quality of life. If you get a company to come in here, you won’t get the same level of engagement as there is with a volunteer.”
As I mentioned above, this supports current research that reveals residents are likely to be more open with volunteers rather than professional staff.
The Baycrest Learning Institute Speaker Series (BLISS) is a new addition to the volunteer program. Professionals from Ryerson University came in and trained people to be facilitators who in turn trained volunteers to facilitate groups and give presentations. The goal however, is not the presentation, but the engagement of the residents in the presentation. Janis offered two examples. The first is a pianist who plays a musical piece and then elicits discussion about how the music makes them feel and other engaging questions. In similar manner, a volunteer from Morocco tells her personal story of life growing up in Morocco.
“This program was volunteer created, volunteer run, volunteer trained, and staff are thrilled.”
When I asked Janis about liability issues, her response was not surprising. “All of our volunteers are highly trained, and starting in January  they have to complete learning modules the same as staff do.” We went on to discuss having liability insurance and there was no “new” news on this topic. You evaluate the tasks volunteers will be doing, identity possible vulnerabilities and then create policies and training to reduce the chance of a mishap.
We discussed the budget and how she justifies the volunteer budget. I believe that it is an ongoing task. I suggested that one must connect volunteer activity to the bottom-line, showing that operations budgets are positively impacted when residents, staff, and families are happy.
Janis points out that,
“We cannot attract young people into gerontology if we don’t give them an opportunity to be exposed to caring for older adults. Providing volunteer opportunities provides that exposure. In like manner, what about the thousands of people who are retiring and looking for “something to do?”
From there, I brought up the subject of labor unions. Janis said that overall the relationship with the unions has been very good, she said, “They get it.” There were instances where the union leaders wanted some adjustments made to job descriptions or clarification as to what the volunteer job was and that the volunteer was not replacing a paid employee who had just left the organization. The unions want to understand what the volunteers are doing.
“If we want our volunteers to be healthy and strong, our aging population to be healthy and strong, there has to be a strong governmental support to support volunteerism.”
In meeting with the volunteer coordinator, Tehila Tewel, I had the opportunity to discuss their recruiting, onboarding and training process. It was reassuring to me, as the founder of Community 360°, that Baycrest also has a stringent vetting process and training protocol. For those of you that follow my articles, you know that I am not only a strong proponent of filtering for highly committed individuals but also adequately preparing the volunteers for the roles that they will be assuming. As a result, as it should be clear by now, Baycrest volunteers are embraced by care staff as a valuable and necessary asset in providing not only quality care but quality of life.
Tehila indicated that they host orientation/information session twice a month attended by some 50 prospective volunteers at each one. At those orientations, attendees receive information about Baycrest, working with our clients, programs offered to clients, wheelchair training, volunteer roles and responsibilities. They are also encouraged to apply.
For those that do apply, they then complete six modules of online training and other screenings and tests as required by the Ontario Long-Term Care Act.
Screening continues when they come in for their interview with a highly trained volunteer interviewer who will place them in the program that matches their skills and Baycrest’s needs. There are many specialized volunteer programs that have been created which require more hands-on training and education. Some of these are offered on-line and others are in classrooms settings. Most of the on-line courses and specialized training provide certificates upon completion. Volunteers are thrilled have the opportunity to learn from our professionals.
As with Community 360°, the attrition rate is high upfront but low on the back-end. One thing I have learned in this process is that no matter how desperate one may be for volunteers, simply putting warm bodies in place will not result in an effective or sustainable volunteer program. Filtering for and training highly committed volunteers is a more difficult path but one that will produce the kind of volunteer program that is in place at Baycrest.
Without exception, volunteers, wearing the yellow “Baycrest – Volunteer” lanyard could be seen everywhere and not just a few. It was so remarkable and refreshing to see, not only the incredible number of volunteers, but that they were truly making a positive impact on the quality of care and quality of life for the people living at Baycrest as well as the staff of Baycrest.
If you are a director of volunteers or are in the process of establishing a volunteer program in your long-term community, please take a good look at the Baycrest volunteer program.
Note: I could have written so much more about the program. For the sake of space and time, I will reserve my full account of this program for my upcoming book: “The Volun-Cheer-Factor.” Stay tuned!
It is becoming increasingly evident that providing quality of life through “person-centered” care is as much about nurturing meaningful relationships, that include trust, intimacy and empathy between two people. Volunteers, properly screened and trained are in the perfect place to provide that level of care. Hillcrest Health Services seems to get that!
On April 24, 2017 I had the pleasure and opportunity of meeting with Rachel Brandenburg, the volunteer coordinator for Hillcrest Health Services. The following excerpts from that interview reveal Hillcrest’s strong support of their volunteer program and the impact it is having not only on the people they serve but the people who work there as well.|
Interview: Paul: Rachel thanks for taking time out of your very busy day to talk with me. I’m in the business these days of highlighting great volunteer programs with the goal of inspiring other long-term service providers to make a serious investment in their volunteer program and I think after interviewing people around the world, I should probably take a look in my own backyard. And I think I found a great program right here at Hillcrest Health Services…and so what I’ve learned so far is that a great volunteer programs starts by hiring a great volunteer coordinator…
Rachel: Yes! And we are trying to be…we get a lot of great support here at Hillcrest. We are fortunate at Hillcrest to have a great team. In addition to myself, we have Kaylee Chilton as our volunteer specialist, so really she is a second volunteer coordinator. So there is two of us!
Paul: So tell me about your program.
Rachel: We have multiple communities with teams of volunteers in each one. As a result, we have multiple programs we lead in each but we also have a lot of support from the leadership from each community.
We have good volunteers too and we match them by their talents. When we go into that interview process with a volunteer, we want to know what they want to get out of this.
We know all of their needs but we want to match them to what their needs are and so we utilize volunteers a lot for [administrative] office support, behind the scenes kind of things to help us with the program. Our whole team gets good support. We are very fortunate.
Paul: As far as the staff, how do they feel about volunteers? Do they feel threatened by them, do they feel like they are going to be replaced by unpaid workers?
Rachel: In my time here at Hillcrest…we work with all the rec teams who are kind of the supervisors of the volunteer while they’re there…for us it’s just that continual education and really building the relationship.
So I’ve been educating all our teams on this is what our volunteers can do to help relieve you when you’re in need…as a supportive factor…so I haven’t got too much pushback or I haven’t felt that they feel threatened. We have so much education that we’re trying to push out all of the time on how we can help them…I feel like that’s helped alleviate any fear that they may have.
Paul: Ok. Well on the flipside, what kind of positive feedback have you heard?
Rachel: I don’t think that our teams really realized the help that a volunteer could provide until several of them had to go on vacation. They were like “Wow, we didn’t have to worry about that!”
Paul: So how many volunteers do you have?
Rachel: We are up to about 278 volunteers. We have over 300 but some are inactive because of life events.
Paul: About how many volunteer hours did you have for 2016?
Rachel: About 12,000 hours.
Paul: And then are their different tiers of volunteers, for example, those volunteers that come for special events as opposed to volunteers who are there weekly?
Rachel: We have special event volunteers so that would be more like casual volunteers that are on our roster, we have volunteers that come in and run Bingo every week, and the we have patient care volunteers that are there strictly for companionship care and then we have our hospice volunteers “no one dies alone” volunteers.
Paul: So volunteer training, what does that look like?
Rachel: So for someone like a group that’s just coming in only one time, we have them meet with the rec leader and the leader will go over HIPAA (privacy/confidentiality regulations). Then if the group wants to continue coming then they need to go through the process: the full interview process and orientation.
Paul: How do you recruit your volunteers?
Rachel: …we do career fairs…we link up with our HR team or our development team when they’re going out. I have a pretty good relationship with a lot of churches and word of mouth has been the best recruitment tool for me. We also use online like our website and social media like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
Paul: Rachel it’s been great visiting with you and learning about the Hillcrest Health Services volunteer program. I’m sure that the people who are staying in your communities benefit a great deal from the activities and the companionship your volunteers provide.
Rachel: Thank you!
If you have a nursing home volunteer program that you think I should feature, let me know! Just email me at: email@example.com
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!
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…
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!