As promised, I am continuing my search for remarkable nursing home volunteer programs so that I may highlight them here at VolunCheerLeader. It is my hope that in doing so, I will encourage nursing home administrators, directors of nursing, volunteer coordinators, and activity professionals (who are often in charge of volunteer programs) to take a serious look at these exemplar programs and think about their own volunteer programs. People, properly vetted and afforded quality training produce a cadre of what I am calling “super” volunteers. One question to ask for sure is:
How will expanding the role of volunteers in my nursing home impact my budget and quality of care?
With vacancies rates for professional nursing home staff running into the millions by mid-century we cannot afford to overlook or ignore such a valuable resource. My journey is taking me near and far as I search the internet and network with other researchers and professionals working in long-term care.
During a June 2016 telephone call with Dr. Allen Power, a board certified internist and geriatrician as well an associate professor at the University of Rochester, after hearing what I was advocating, recommended that I contact Jill Woodward, CEO of Elizabeth Knox Hospital and Nursing Home in Auckland, New Zealand. To my great surprise he announced, “She has a 140 bed nursing home and 800 volunteers!” I knew at that second I had to contact Jill and find out more about her volunteer program!
It took a few weeks of emailing and figuring out the best time to connect as Auckland, is 17 hours ahead of me. We did finally connect and it was as you might anticipate a great conversation. Her energy, zeal and passion for providing quality care came through the thousands of mile of communication electronics loud and clear. Here is a portion of our conversation along with comments emailed to me by Kristen O’Reilly, who started off as the Volunteer Coordinator for the Knox home, but now in charge of Community Partnerships.
Excerpts from our conversation:
Paul: I was talking with Al Power and he told me that you have a great volunteer program. I’m writing a book that advocates for expanding the role of volunteers in nursing homes. And so, I’d like to talk with you about your volunteer program.
Jill: Volunteers play a really big part of what we do here. We’ve had our program up and running for about three years now.
The first thing we did was recruit a really great volunteer coordinator!
One of the things we did was to create a volunteer program that focuses on the critical need for resident companionship. We have 700 to 800 volunteers. We’ve never had an expectation that volunteers would do what staff members are doing. But we do have volunteers that work alongside team leaders when they first come to work at Knox so they have a sense of confidence about what they are doing.
Paul: Do you have a formal training program for them?
Jill: We do indeed. We have a volunteer coordinator [Kristen O’Reilly] that we first engaged whose role has now changed to “Community Partnership.” We hired two new volunteer coordinators, Monica and Margaret, who work all seven days because we cover the weekend as well to support our volunteers.
Kristen [from her e-mail to me]: We have really extensive training program available for Knox volunteers. The process of recruitment involves a one-on-one interview with one of our two fabulous coordinators Monica or Margaret. It is through these meetings that we get a really good sense of what skills and abilities the volunteer candidate possesses and what their motivation is to volunteer.
We love to find out what they would like to get out of it!
The most common reasons for volunteering are: social contact, work experience, learning or improving English, and to give something back to the local community. Together, the volunteer and the coordinators choose the right role for the person: Staff Support, Resident Companionship, Elder Support, or Community Support. We also have Volunteer Team Leaders.
There is lots of opportunity for our volunteers to move around engaging in new roles after they’ve been a part of our community for a while. We also have lots of community groups who come in and do performances, arts and crafts in groups and those are counted outside of our volunteer numbers of 700-800 per month.
The next step for the volunteer candidate is to attend a group orientation. These are generally two hours long and offered every fortnight. The volunteer coordinators cover everything from the Eden Alternative, information about volunteer roles, health and safety to communications. Volunteers fill our registration forms and are ready to get started for their first shifts – but they are expected to come to another two-hour training session within their first month, to be considered fully registered.
On their first day, a volunteer will be paired up with another individual, or a group, depending on which shift they have chosen or been assigned.
We have excellent processes in place for the first few shifts for all volunteers, to ensure we are truly training them ‘how to think’ and ‘how to respond’ on their own – so that volunteers do not need to be supervised forever by staff.
…the idea is to empower them to spend time directly with residents without being micromanaged, but given enough support and confidence to do so up front.
Each month there are alternative options for training sessions, the volunteer chooses which area where they feel they need the most support. They are more than welcome to come to any or all of the sessions but there is a minimum requirement that they attend one more after their orientation. The types of training choices include: Eden Alternative workshops, Communication training, Forgetfulness (Dementia) training, Grief training, and Health and Safety training.
We also run a seven-part workshops series, the Knox Practical Communication Course – for volunteers who have English as a Second Language. It’s been designed by The Literacy Professionals/Languages International and learners receive a certificate upon completing the training. This is all free of charge as our way to give back to volunteers, as we are a diverse community (63 nationalities… and counting!)
Paul: Would you consider your volunteers a reliable resource?
Jill: Ah! Utterly! We got the usual push back when we decided to go down the path of growing a volunteer program. But let me give you just a little bit of my background. Before I came to Knox, eight years ago, I was the CEO of a hospice and we had about 450 volunteers. We had volunteers giving cares, running our shops and driving vehicles. We had them doing all manner of things. We wanted to keep it really simple here at Knox, to let it develop it in its own way with a lot of support.
Paul: As far as the staff, what’s the staff attitude towards the volunteer?
Jill: It’s wonderful. It probably took about 12 to 18 months until we got a shift in the tone. To start with the staff had to train these volunteers, they felt they were too busy to be overseeing volunteers, it was the beginning. It’s all well and good we have volunteers but we don’t know what we’ll have in a year. Then it moved to “…we’ve three or four volunteers in the evening but we actually need more.”
And now it’s “…we couldn’t manage without the volunteers!
Paul: Would you be willing to let me highlight your volunteer program at VolunCheerLeader and to say that volunteer programs are well worth the investment?
Jill: That’s our motivation too! We won a national award, an Equal Employment Opportunities, (EEO) Trust Diversity award for what we were doing with volunteers to improve quality of care. We had members of parliament come to visit Knox. We had the Minister for Volunteering come here to celebrate volunteering. We give people every opportunity to speak about volunteering so that they become the voice of volunteering.
The best voice of volunteering are the residents and the volunteers. They are a powerful voice.
Paul: That’s really all I have; do you want to add anything more?
Jill: Yes, when we started out, we applied for charitable funding. We applied for a grant to employ a volunteer coordinator and we explained that it would expand our volunteer program. It’s a big leap to look for to go out and employ somebody
Kristen is stopping at Saskatchewan to see another Eden home. We are looking to form a really close relationship and to possibly trade team members with them. We are looking at key partners specifically who might not have the chance to travel outside of New Zealand. Instead, they may have the opportunity to spend two or three weeks working in a totally different care environment.
Paul: That is just awesome! It’s very exciting for me to be talking with people, literally all around the world, your energy and the synergy is just wonderful. It also gives me a sense of hope.
Jill: Oh good! Bill Thomas is suitably disrupting things which is bright! (#DisruptAging )
Paul: Yes, he was here in September. It was great to see and talk with him.
Jill: I was in the states to speak at the Eden conference and I was really hoping that it would have coincided with my visit. Please keep in touch.
Paul: I will Jill. Take care.
Jill: Thank you, Paul, and you take care.
If you know of a volunteer program that I should highlight here at VolunCheerLeader, please e-mail me at [email protected]
Together, let’s discover volunteers as a work-ready resource for nursing homes!