Training program tells if volunteers are able

Avoiding the appearance of impropriety

When developing a volunteer screening program, the last piece of the process is the training program, which should be used not only to educate volunteers but also to gauge their ability to fulfill the tasks they will be asked to perform.

The training program serves to help volunteers avoid the appearance of impropriety. For example, volunteers are often told not to accept gifts from patients because it could later be construed as theft by a family member who did not know the item was given to the volunteer.

Visiting Nurses Association of Atlanta, which includes Hospice Atlanta, runs an Alzheimer’s disease respite program for caregivers whose loved ones have not been able to access services and have not been certified as terminally ill. VNA’s volunteer training consists of four distinct parts:

Program overview.

Volunteers are introduced to the Alzheimer’s Care Program and its volunteer component. The first part of the training outlines other venues in which patients are cared for, such as day care and home health. This part of the training makes it possible for volunteers to pass this information along to families looking for additional respite care.

Patient and family information.

Volunteers are trained in assessing caregiver needs and getting to know the patient. This helps the volunteer learn how to establish a relationship with the patient and capture information that will help clinical staff when the patient is admitted into hospice. Volunteers are introduced to the program’s Participant Highlight Sheet, which prompts them to ask a series of questions about the patient, including where the patient grew up, hobbies, and favorite foods, to name a few.

"It teaches them to be observant," says Jolita Wainwright, volunteer coordinator of Hospice Atlanta’s Alzheimer’s volunteer program. "We ask them to look around the house for things like pictures. Do they see pictures of family around the house or not? This can tell us a lot."

Volunteers are also trained to look out for household features that could lead to falls or injuries and to note them on a prevention checklist. For instance, the checklist requires volunteers to investigate the bathroom for non-slip surfaces and safety rails.

Volunteers also perform nutrition screening using a form that assesses functional status. For example, the form asks a volunteer to circle whether the patient is able to cook and feed self, requires some assistance, relies on the caregiver to prepare food, or relies on the caregiver to both prepare and feed.

Role of the volunteer.

Hospice Atlanta defines the role of the volunteer as follows:

Purpose: to ensure that Alzheimer’s caregivers on waiting list have access to volunteer support in conjunction with interdisciplinary team and the plan of care.

Policy: Volunteer coordinator will assess each patient/family for needs which could be met by a trained volunteer. The volunteer, once assigned to a patient, becomes part of the interdisciplinary team, communicating observations made during each visit.

The volunteer respite provider is trained in establishing an initial relationship with the client, establishing trust, and learning about the impact they can have on the family. They are taught that trust is gained through positive body language, a warm approach, assuring their support of the family, and letting the family know that the volunteer enjoys the client’s company.

Patterson stresses that none of these components is sufficient by itself, but together they provide a clear picture of potential risk as well as demonstrating that the hospice has made a reasonable effort to protect its clients from predatory individuals.