The next time you visit a hospital, take a minute to scan the area for folks working that aren’t wearing scrubs or a stethoscope. Chances are you’ll seedozens each time you
visit, perhaps starting with the receptionist that greets you at the door. Many of those folks are actually volunteers, helping to make sure things run efficiently and that patients are comfortable. When you think about the number of hospitals throughout the country, it should come as no surprise that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 4.9 million Americans volunteered their time in a hospital or health-related organization last year.
It’s not uncommon for a hospital to have a separate auxiliary that manages the various facets of its large volunteer program. Hospital volunteers fill a wide variety of duties, serving as receptionists, secretaries, candy stripers, gift shop staff, and more. Some clergy members and clinicians also volunteer their time in this setting. Taking it all into account, it’s clear that hospitals would have a very difficult time without this dedicated group. However, there are some nuances to volunteer management in the hospital environment.
What makes hospital volunteering a truly unique situation is the fact that volunteers are serving people in such a variety of mindsets. For some, their visit to the hospital is pure joy because they are having their first child or grandchild. For others, the situation is difficult because they may have just lost a loved one. A family may be relieved because potential bad news turned out to be nothing major, while an individual may be looking for strength to literally fight for his or her life. Because of this reality, hospital volunteers need to possess a special mental makeup that keeps them even-keeled and professional at all times.
Special Legal Consideration
From a volunteer management standpoint, coordinating volunteers in a hospital setting requires some additional legal considerations. One that is mentioned quite often is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA. The act was created in an effort to establish a national set of standards to insure patient privacy. The law requires all employees to be trained on and adhere to its guidelines, regardless if they are paid or unpaid. During volunteer or ientation, hospitals may spend extra time highlighting this law, especially in tight-knit communities where people often know each other and the urge to gossip may be greater.
From the volunteer’s perspective, the thought of working in a hospital can be overwhelming, especially when one considers the number of medical lawsuits in the court system. Thankfully, the Volunteer Protection Act (VPA) provides some insulation to volunteers against claims of or dinary negligence, as long as the volunteer was acting within the scope of his or her job’s duties. This law can provide some assurance to potential volunteers who may be leery of volunteering in this sometimes litigious environment.
On the Horizon
Speaking of law, we will let the political pundits argue the pros and cons of the recent health care reform. One thing we will say is that changes are happening in the health care field, one way or another. Hospitals will certainly be affected. It’s unclear how much these changes will influence volunteer management at hospitals, but they are likely to trickle down in some manner. Whatever the case may be, having a flexible volunteer management platform to coordinate, track, communicate, and generate reports can make the transition much simpler .
These are just a few of the subtleties of managing volunteers in a hospital setting. Hospital administrators and employees will all tell you that they rely heavily on volunteers for everyday operations. That’s why putting the extra resources into efficient volunteer management can help contribute to the organization’s goal of better patient care and support.
Shawn Kendrick holds an MBA from Ohio Dominican University and has over a decade’s experience in the nonprofit and business sectors. He enjoys researching and blogging for VolunteerHub, a cloud-based volunteer management system that offers online event registration, automated email and text messages, report generation, and much more.