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. Eleanor: What do you do as Director of Volunteer Services?

Ellen Stein: 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.

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 someone in a wheelchair to religious services, and you’d think I’d given them the world.

Dr. Barbera is an author and a licensed psychologist consulting in long-term care facilities in the New York City area. She frequently lectures on subjects related to psychology, aging, and nursing homes. Dr. Barbera is available for private consulting with organizations, institutions, and individuals around eldercare issues. Visit her personal blog at www.mybetternursinghome.blogspot.com.

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