Guest Columns

Best practices for volunteer services

Betty Norman, BSN, MBA, CPHRM
Betty Norman, BSN, MBA, CPHRM

Volunteers perform an important and necessary service for many healthcare organizations, including senior living. However, they can also represent a risk exposure. Because of this risk, it is important that organizations using volunteers establish policies and procedures for volunteer selection, orientation/training and ongoing evaluation. This is especially true for organizations with students volunteering during the summer.

Recruiting and selection of volunteers

Have prospective volunteers complete an application that is accompanied by a cover letter describing the qualifications, time commitments and any special requirements of the position. This may serve to deter casual applicants who are not prepared to meet your requirements for service and training.

A face-to-face interview is valuable. During the interview, provide a brief overview of the organization and the expectations of volunteers and obtain personal references. Include documentation of notes from the interview and the results from reference checks in the volunteer's file. It is recommended to have written job descriptions for all positions filled by volunteers. These can be utilized as part of an annual evaluation process.

Orientation/training

Provide an orientation program that addresses, but is not limited to:

  • Volunteer role/job description

  • Roles of the various team members with whom the volunteer will interact

  • Communication skills

  • Infection control

  • Professional boundaries

  • Safety

  • Confidentiality/HIPAA

It is important that volunteers are included in ongoing educational and training programs. Sometimes it may be difficult to provide continuing education sessions that fit the schedule of every volunteer. In that case, identify the sessions that are mandatory and consider providing online or audiovisual training opportunities that can be more easily accessed. Policy and procedure updates and reminders can be provided via a volunteer newsletter as well.

Ongoing evaluation

Annual evaluation of volunteers is important from a risk control perspective. A poor performing volunteer can create as much risk exposure for an organization as an employee. Solicit input from team members who directly observe the volunteer during care assignments. Patient/family satisfaction surveys are often a good source of information on volunteer performance also.

Special risks

Teen volunteers – Volunteering provides young people with opportunities to explore career fields and engage in community service. Assure that there is parental consent prior to first assignment. Many organizations include a parent or guardian in the interview process. It is important that they understand the position requirements prior to giving their consent.

Professional volunteers – Some organizations have professionals who volunteer their services. This might include barbers/beauticians, nurses, massage therapists, etc. When using a volunteer in a professional capacity, it is important to maintain documentation similar to what would be maintained for an employee. This might include verification of required certifications or licenses and evidence of current malpractice insurance coverage.

Auto liability – Volunteers in community-based programs, such as hospice, spend a lot of time driving their own vehicles in the course of their role as a volunteer. It is important that the organization verifies the volunteer has a current, valid driver's license and adequate auto insurance coverage as part of the initial screening process.  Consider performing motor vehicle record checks initially and then every year thereafter. Liability coverage of at least $100,000 is recommended to volunteers who may be transporting patients or their families in a personal.

Abuse prevention – Unfortunately, many individuals who are looking for an opportunity to take advantage of a vulnerable adult or child enter the organization through a volunteer position. Institute thorough screening procedures, including criminal background checks when volunteers are placed in direct contact with at-risk clients.

Risk management and liability reduction are important considerations when working with volunteers. A risk management assessment is valuable because it can help protect all involved (the organization, volunteers, clients, etc.) Carefully evaluate volunteer programs to assure risks are being adequately managed.

Betty Norman, BSN, MBA, CPHRM, is Risk Control Director at Glatfelter Healthcare Practice, part of Glatfelter Program Managers, a strategic business unit dedicated to Glatfelter Insurance Group's program business.
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