Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Hospital Volunteering: 3 Things You Didn't Know & How the Web Can Help

Cross-posted from The Extraordinaries.

Did you know that volunteering in hospitals is one the oldest volunteering traditions in the United States? I didn't, until I talked last month with Joan Cardellino, the Director of Volunteer Services for the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. She has been in the field of volunteerism for the past 30 years.

When I asked Joan what three things most people don't know about hospital volunteerism she said:

  1. It's huge. The state of California alone has over 100,000 hospital volunteers.
  2. It's one of the longest traditions of volunteering in the United States dating back to the beginning of the colonies. Originally, health committees, made up of volunteers, gathered together to deal with health issues like flu, or cholera epidemics. The committees evolved into dispensaries, which led to clinics, which lead to the creation of hospitals.
  3. Volunteer opportunities exist at every level of organization within a hospital, for every age, and at every service level from being on the hospital's Board of Trustees, to writing letters to patients as a kindergartner.
Cardellino explained why hospital volunteers are important to patient care in hospitals:
"Volunteering is a natural component of meeting the endless need of the human condition. People are always going to be sick, they are always going to be born, they are always going to die, and they are always going to need health care. There is some element of this human condition that requires a personal touch."
She said that there will never be enough resources from current funding sources (i.e. insurance, government, individual's fees for services) to meet this endless need. Communities need to band together to support their local hospitals to fill in where the traditional resources are not enough by providing service, providing funding, advocating and governing (on Boards of Trustees).

According to Cardellino, the greatest challenge hospital volunteerism faces today, is the aging of its volunteer workforce. Hospitals need to supplement the traditional "pink lady," with volunteer opportunities for teens, baby boomers, and people in their 20s, 30s, 40s.

Another challenge hospital volunteerism faces is regulation, and the number of human resource and legal issues that need to be addressed before a person can volunteer. For example, after our conversation, I checked out the volunteer opportunities at one of my local hospitals, the Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland. According to the Volunteering: First Steps section of their site, in order to volunteer I need to:
  • Complete a 2-page application.
  • Complete a Health Clearance form which proves that I am cleared for TB, Measles, Mumps and Varicella.
  • Mail in the application and Health Clearance form (It takes 2 weeks for the application to be processed and the background check to be completed).
  • Go for a placement interview.
  • Go to a 2-hour orientation.
Once all of that has been completed, I would need to commit to one 4-hour shift per week, during regular weekday business hours, for six months.

One of the ways Cardellino feels some of hospital volunteerism's challenges can be met is by using the Web to help with:
  • Recruitment (i.e. online marketing).
  • Interviews (i.e interview college students via the web so that they can be interns when they come home for the summer).
  • Recognition (i.e.posting stories about volunteers online).
  • Orientations and trainings (i.e. clinical volunteers can stay in compliance with their regulatory training and certifications through web-based training).
  • Communication (According to Cardellino, "If we needed the voice of every hospital volunteer in the state of California to advocate on behalf of a hospital volunteer issue that is currently in front of the assembly, we don't have a way to do it").
She had lot of ideas for ways hospitals could use a 20-minute volunteering service like The Extraordinaries such as:
  • Call banks for hospital advocacy issues.
  • Call banks for Telehelp and Elderhelp.
  • Immediate phone calls after someone receives a cancer diagnosis from a cancer survivor.
  • Reminder calls for events, meetings, trainings and conferences.
  • Cleaning up databases by calling numbers and looking up addresses.
  • Sending personal messages on behalf of hospital patients.
Ultimately, she feels that "episodic volunteer" opportunities, like the kind The Extraordinaries will provide, are essential to keeping hospital volunteerism programs afloat:
"It's exactly the kind of thinking we need to do in hospitals.

Every time I hear a volunteer leader say, 'We can't use episodic volunteers,' I say, 'Well, you might as well close your doors now. If you don't find a way to use episodic volunteers in today's volunteer environment, you're never going to be able to continue on.'

That's where the field has taken us. They want the traditional 'pink lady' who comes in every Tuesday and sits at the information desk, and that's it. We need them. We have to have them, but we've got to go this road of this 20-minute volunteer opportunity. This is our future."


  1. Thanks so much for posting this - It communicates the need for volunteers as well as plainly instructs how to get involved.

    I'm sending this to everyone I know!

  2. My pleasure! The thanks really goes to Joan. She was an inspiring person to interview.

  3. Anonymous6:16 PM

    Thanks for this. Its somewhat helpful. But is there any information for teens volunteering in hospitals? I'm almost sixteen, but for most places, you need to be 18 to volunteer. I'm doing a project for school on informationa about volunteering, then actually going out and doing it. However, its difficult to find a hospital where I can help out. Any other info would be mucho appreciated. :)

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