I believe most of us are hopeful that this year, 2021, will be one filled with a lot more laughter, family get-togethers, vacations, and returning to a somewhat “normal” lifestyle. The danger, though, is that the disturbing and disconcerting feelings of being socially isolated from family and friends will gradually fade from our memory, and we will return to things as they were before the pandemic. This is something we must guard against.
We cannot forget,
that thousands of people living in nursing homes died alone during the pandemic, frightened, unable to be with loved ones not from the virus but from being isolated from meaningful human contact. Recognizing the deadly effect of social isolation, we must prioritize working to mitigate the impact of social isolation and feelings of disconnectedness among people living in nursing homes. Recruiting and training a cadre of “essential” companion volunteers is a good place to start.
I’ve written extensively about creating a volunteer workforce that becomes an integral part of the total nursing home workforce. In my book, “Creating the Volun-Cheer Force,” I explain in detail how this can be accomplished realizing the potential impact that this group of volunteers can have on all of nursing home stakeholders, e.g., people living in the nursing home, people working in the nursing home, the families of the people living nursing homes, and the community surrounding the nursing home.
the “companion” volunteer, trained to establish “authentic” relationships, spends quality time with people, learning their history, their likes and dislikes, the skills they possess, their hobbies, and activities that are meaningful to them. As Anne Gross wrote in 1961, “Volunteers have the luxury of time.”
Volunteers have the luxury of timeAnne Gross
Without a doubt, the lack of time is one of the chief barriers to establishing meaningful relationships. This is not to say that it is impossible but how many “authentic” relationships can one person nurture? One? Two? Three?” I am sure it varies from person to person, but I feel like I am not going out on a limb when I say that a person is not likely to establish 100 “authentic” relationships.
It is well known that nursing homes are screaming for workers.
While various groups are working to address staff shortages by offering increased wages, benefits, opportunities for education, and advancement, the stigma of the nursing home as a “place where people receive poor care and die prematurely” remains a deterrent for attracting new workers. The pandemic only amplified this stigma.
This is where re-visiting and re-imagining your volunteer workforce can play a critical role in attracting new workers. It never ceases to amaze me how many people I have met now working in nursing homes started as volunteers. I did as well as many of my colleagues.
Invest in your volunteer workforce
by first hiring a professionally trained manager of volunteer engagement. That person will know how to open your doors to the community. Through the process of recruiting, training, and deploying your “companion” volunteers, you will be opening the volunteer’s eyes as to what your nursing home is really all about, i.e., a lot of hard work mixed with a lot of compassionate care versus what the volunteers likely see in news feeds. In turn, they will go back to their spheres of influence, e.g., workplace, church, school, and friends, to tell them what they have witnessed and invite them to come and see for themselves.
Now is the time!
Now that we have a gut full of social isolation and well understand the pain of being separated from our loved ones, now is the time to re-imagine your volunteer workforce, not as an after-thought but as an integral part of the excellent care you hope to deliver to the people in your nursing home. Not only will they thank you, but so will your staff, the families, and the community surrounding your nursing home, and I dare say that people talking about your excellent care will lead to increasing census and high marks from the surveyors, reduced use of psychotropics, fewer falls, lower incident rate for depression and even improved job satisfaction among the care staff.
I would love to hear and highlight how you are re-imaging your volunteer workforce!
Please let me know what you are doing and how I might be able to help you. Email me: Paul @VolunCheerLeader.com
 DuPuis, S. L., Gillies, J., Carson, J., Whyte, C., Genoe, R., Loiselle, L., & Sadler, L. (2012). Moving beyond “patient” and “client” approaches: Mobilising authentic partnerships in dementia care. Dementia: The International Journal of Social Research and Practice, 11(4), 427–452.
 Gross, A. (1961). Why nursing homes need volunteers. Modern Hospital, 97. Retrieved from http://medcontent.metapress.com/index/A65RM03P4874243N.pdf