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10 Strategic Actions to Elevate Volunteer Program Involvement in Healthcare

There is a collective force of caregivers in healthcare aiming to make a difference in the experience of patients and their families.


“A community of professionals and champions has flourished around the world.  Coming together with a common purpose that healthcare can and must be better for all who are engaged in and served by it", is how Jason Wolf, President & CEO of The Beryl Institute described it during his opening remarks of their annual convening last week. 


In addition to patients, physicians, nurses, and clinicians, there are decision makers and stakeholders from all corners of healthcare contributing to this movement, including those in the volunteer sector.



In many organizations, the volunteer program is already an active part of the equation to deliver high-touch person-centered solutions.  Yet in other healthcare institutions, the strategic involvement of the volunteer program is still a missed opportunity.



This article looks at the collective effort to improve the human experience in healthcare, the key role that volunteers are playing, and provides 10 strategic action steps for leaders of volunteers who are looking to elevate the role of volunteers in their healthcare organizations.

a page from the Healthcare Volunteers Coloring Book

And since National Volunteer Week is coming right up, this is also an opportunity to say “Thank you!” to the tens of thousands of volunteers who come alongside hospitals and healthcare systems worldwide to help them be the best version of themselves.


This healthcare volunteer coloring book has been created in recognition of the role that volunteers play in the delivery of patient-centered care. A free printable PDF download is available if you would like to share this fun offering with your volunteers.  You can find it on the PeriscopeBPA site Toolbox page along with other resources.



The Collective Effort for the Human Experience in Healthcare

Last week I was in Denver, Colorado attending the Beryl Institute’s ElevatePX Conference.  This ‘global patient experience event’ takes place every year to bring together a community of like-minded leaders committed to improving the human experience in healthcare.   That community includes leaders of healthcare volunteers. 


The Beryl Institute has welcomed the volunteer voice into this healthcare space.  Their 2022 PX Paper, “The Evolving Role of Healthcare Volunteer Programs: Elevating the Human Experience through Generosity and Connection” explored “ how culture and leadership, reporting relationships and accountability, and metrics for defining success all influence the volunteers who serve”.


This concept of organizational alignment and strategic involvement with the volunteer services area is important.  There is significant opportunity to design solutions in the form of volunteer programs that can deliver value, but it takes a volunteer leader’s perspective being at the decision-making table to do so.


Compassion Unites Us, Volunteers Elevate Us

If you are reading this, chances are that you know that healthcare volunteerism has evolved. The terms “Candystripers and "Pink Ladies”, outdated, non-inclusive language coined mid-century in reference to uniform color and predominate gender of the hospital volunteer world of the time, are still sometimes used by those who don't really know the type of work done by today's hospital volunteers.


Fast forward to a much more inclusive and innovative time, and volunteers have the potential to be an extremely valuable partner in the pursuit of health care human experience. Every volunteer role has its origin in meeting some challenge that the organization is facing.  And while roles and times change, volunteers provide service in a way that tech solutions, services, and software never can or will be able to. When we're talking about the human experience in healthcare there is no substitute for the human-to-human connection in the provision of service. 


Enter community volunteers -volunteers are uniquely poised for this space. 


At Mount Sinai Morningside, volunteers are making a measurable difference in preventing patient falls. Amy Bush, a lean six sigma green belt, developed a volunteer-based solution to help meet a challenge at the hospital Volunteer, trained to identify fall risk, response, and prevention, engage in intentional rounding activity to help keep patients safe.


At Houston Methodist West Hospital, a collaboration with volunteer services has resulted in a reduction in readmissions. Specially trained volunteers round on high-risk patients prior to discharge, encouraging them to establish the date and time of their follow up appointment. That one act of aiding patients in scheduling their appointment has led to a measurable and sustained reduction in readmissions from over 16% prior to 2015 and now averaging 2.43% between 2016-2023 for the populations served by the program.


These are just two examples of the progressive partnerships with volunteer services to meet an identified need. While every volunteer role is born from an identified need, not all needs are created equal.  To effectively tie volunteer services success to the success of the organization, decision makers should seek involvement in organizational discussions. One reason volunteer leaders should have a seat at the table is in order to create meaningful service opportunities for both the hospital as well as the volunteer. 


10 Actions for More Strategic Healthcare Volunteer Program Involvement

If you are not at the table, you could be on the menu.


a professional business woman stands planning at a board covered in stickynotes

Be proactive in getting a seat at the table, but before doing so, ensure that volunteer services success is tied to the organization's overall success. 


Clearly have goals that align to larger business objectives.  For any initiative undertaken, have Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) that align to that larger organizational success. While you may not be able to with certainty say that the volunteer program caused the increase in patient satisfaction scores, being data driven in this regard will help you make the business case.



Amy Bush, the Director of Volunteer Services with the volunteer fall prevention program at Mount Sinai Morningside, did both of these things. With clearly stated program goals for volunteer interaction with patients at high risk for falls aligned with the organization's overall reduction goal, she correlated the data and was able to report a decrease in falls on nursing units where the program had been piloted.


Advocating for volunteer program involvement in your healthcare organization is an active leader strategy.   Here are some simple strategic actions to get started:

 

Strategic Action #1 | Get Involved

Engage in cross-departmental collaborations and projects to demonstrate the value of volunteer services in various organizational initiatives.


Strategic Action #2 | Stay Current

Attend relevant conferences, seminars, and workshops to stay updated on industry trends and best practices, and to network with other healthcare professionals.


Strategic Action #3 | Find Community Partners

Participate in community events and outreach programs to strengthen relationships with stakeholders and potential volunteers.


Strategic Action #4 | Be Data Driven

Utilize data and metrics to showcase the impact of volunteer services on organizational goals and outcomes.


Strategic Action #5 | Establish Communication Channels

Establish regular communication channels with key decision-makers to provide updates on volunteer program initiatives and successes.


Strategic Action #6 | Leverage Technology

Leverage technology and digital platforms to streamline communication and collaboration efforts, especially in remote or decentralized organizational structures.


Strategic Action #7 | Seek Opportunities

Seek opportunities to serve on advisory boards or committees within the organization to contribute to strategic planning and decision-making processes.


Strategic Action # 8 | Empower Others

Foster a culture of collaboration and partnership within the volunteer services department to empower team members to advocate for their involvement.


Strategic Action #9 | Develop Professionally

Encourage and support professional development opportunities for volunteer leaders to enhance their skills and expertise in areas such as strategic planning, leadership, and communication.


Strategic Action #10 | Celebrate Success

Celebrate successes and milestones achieved through collaborative efforts, reinforcing the value of being actively involved in organizational decision-making processes.

 

A Seat at The Table: The Impact on Volunteer Program Value

When I entered the health care leadership in 2006 the conversation had just started shifting in earnest toward patient experience. It was necessary to have a seat at the table, not just for the hospital, but also for potential volunteers, our community stakeholders.


a group of professional sit a table looking up at the camera

Fortunately, I was able to advocate for myself to get into a variety of task force meetings.  I didn’t want to step on any toes and I wasn’t sure what I would find, so I would just ask to join a meeting out of observational inquiry.  It was a piece of advice I had been given by the first Chief Nursing Officer with which I worked when I asked her for a suggestion on how to learn more about the clinical side of the enterprise.  It was a practice I continued throughout my career. I’d reach out and say, “I want to learn more about what you do”. 


That practice led to relationships, and it led to the creation of new programs or the expansion of existing services.  It also led to growth opportunities for the volunteer department team and the community members whom we served.  Volunteers want to have meaning, impactful experiences. Volunteer programs flourish as new, engaging, volunteer programs are strategically introduced to meet existing business needs.



Summary

Compassion serves as the common thread uniting all caregivers seeking to enhance the human experience in healthcare.  Volunteers, going beyond, offer their services selflessly thus elevating our collective efforts.


This article celebrates the role of volunteers in healthcare and the importance of being at the decision-making table for volunteer services.  Volunteer programs are in a unique position to engage human interaction as part of the patient experience solution design.  With strategical alignment and proactive involvement, volunteers can have a transformative impact on the experience of patients and their families. All the while filling their own cup. It's a win-win solution strategy.


Ten strategic actions are provided to help healthcare leaders get more intentional with the involvement of the volunteer program. It is essential that volunteer leaders advocate for their place in organizational discussions for the benefit of their programs, their facilities, and the broader healthcare experience.


In honor of National Volunteer Week, this article also includes a unique and fun healthcare volunteer coloring book that has been created to celebrate the role of volunteers in healthcare.  “Compassion Unites Us, Volunteer Elevate Us: Healthcare Volunteer Coloring Book” is available as a free printable download as a way to say, “Thank you!” to the many thousands of healthcare volunteers.

 
profile picture of blog author

Roseanna Galindo is Principal at Periscope Business Process Analysis and a champion for data literacy, the human experience in healthcare, and leaders of volunteers everywhere. Learn more about Roseanna and her blog, The Periscope Insighter, by reading the opening post, Venn The Time Is Right


Roseanna is available for training, keynotes, and executive coaching. Visit PeriscopeBPA.com for more information or click on the button below to schedule a time to talk



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