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Volunteerism is the practice of people to work on behalf of others willingly without an expectation of being paid or compensated through other tangible gains. It provides a feeling of self-fulfillment and gives you an opportunity to do what you love just because you love doing it. It provides validation that what you do, and what you can do, is important. Volunteerism also provides you an opportunity to work in a leadership role. Every year, millions of people volunteer their time and skills to organizations that provide help to those in need, which contributes to physical social assistance, organizing and advising, or acting on behalf of causes or movements designed to improve the quality of life. Volunteerism offers numerous benefits to communities, organizations, and volunteers, but it also has negative outcomes which cause organizations to cut down expenses and increase profit margins as jobs are filled by volunteers opposed to paid individuals. This paper will analyze the issue of volunteerism and its impact on hospital performance in Canada. Universal healthcare is a distinguished feature of Canadian culture and has been a major trend in the past decade. This sector has a sharp increase in the demand for healthcare services based on demographic and economic shifts and uncertainty, and the amount of funding from all levels of government. Volunteers have been present in healthcare settings for centuries, however, there is little empirical evidence supporting the impact that volunteers have on hospital performance.
“Volunteerism is an important part of Canadian life; 6.5 million Canadians volunteered in 2000 for a total of 1.05 billion hours”. This illustrates a decrease of volunteers and the total number of hours volunteered from 1997. Despite, the number of volunteers and a total number of hours contributed in 2000, numerous events and volunteer hours, were directed towards the healthcare organization than in 1997. As healthcare costs rise, volunteers have been used to cut down the cost of providing services to improve the quality of care. It has also been realized by hospitals that many nonmedical services, such as providing information, emotional support, and reassurance to patients and their families can certainly impact the quality of life. Therefore, hospitals are progressively depending on volunteers to provide these nonmedical services at no cost to ensure the quality of care.
Since the 1990s, hospitals in Canada have had a great deal of pressure to produce high-quality care with minimal expenses. With the pressures of managed care and accrediting agencies, the benefits of using volunteers in a hospital setting are multiplied (Handy & Srinivasan, 2004). Hospitals may be attracted to increase the use of volunteers, both to provide increased quality of care and to minimize costs. Hospitals have also relied on the use of professional administrators to maximize the effective use of volunteers’ time. This pressure is primarily the result of managed care organizations and their ability to control hospital reimbursements, thus indirectly influencing a hospital’s profit margin. The aging population in Canada is rapidly growing, which creates more healthcare needs, increasing the demand for volunteers in hospitals.
In addition, organizational sectors such as healthcare, are strongly related to volunteerism. They have two organizational traits that are particularly influential on the level of volunteerism. Individuals will volunteer based on the perceptions or feelings about the way they are treated by the organization, and the organization’s reputation and practices. If an individual feels that they are improperly treated in an organization, they are unlikely to commence or continue volunteering with that organization. Likewise, prestigious organizations have been found to be more attractive to potential volunteers. Furthermore, individuals learn about hospital volunteer opportunities in different ways. Many individuals who volunteer in hospitals are in some sort of transitional period and seek out volunteering opportunities to provide them with social support during hard times, such as retired and recently widowed individuals. Others discover such opportunities through friends and families treated at a hospital, or when they were patients themselves. Still, others learn about hospital volunteer opportunities through other organizations, such as their religious organizations or through community clubs. Also, the quality of volunteers can be assessed under various circumstances to qualify for admission.
Dependability and personal impact on the volunteer program are indicators of quality. Other variables considered to recruit quality volunteers include age, gender, education, religion, the number of hours worked per month, the amount of time one had been a volunteer, whether the person had previous volunteering experience, and whether the person’s parents had been volunteers were evaluated as positive predictors of these indicators. Further, older volunteers are more dependable than young ones, and women volunteers were reliable than men volunteers. The number of hours worked, the gender of the volunteer, and religion were all found to be indicative of the impact made by a volunteer. With this, women who believed religion to be very important and worked the most hours had the greatest impact as volunteers. The role of the volunteer varies on the type of work being performed. For example, volunteers can be administrators of charity organizations, while in other cases they perform tasks in church settings, deliver meals to people without transportation, work for political campaigns, or visit with patients in healthcare settings. However, in helping others, volunteers may benefit themselves. Volunteers want to give back to a society that they feel has been very helpful towards them. There are also known to be a multitude of motivating factors for volunteers. Some factors are social, meaning that they build upon interpersonal relationships, which is the desired outcome for older volunteers. Others are personal in that they provide self-fulfillment. On the other hand, some benefits are economic in the sense that they provide networking opportunities and work experience for younger volunteers. Canadian healthcare relies on volunteers to perform numerous tasks and will most likely continue to do so as the healthcare needs of the population continue to grow.
In addition, studies show empirical evidence of the value of volunteerism. Dordrecht (1978) found that “there is a large percentage of economic volunteer service and health and rehabilitation services with hospitals and other large organizations dominating the grouping”. The center provides a significant number of volunteers for the general hospital for example 9% of the volunteers in the hospital are from the center. While other health and rehabilitation, services use an additional 24% of the volunteers. Furthermore, 58% of the volunteers spend time in six task areas including “supervision and friendly visiting, parole counsel, childcare, clerical, and driving”. With the excluding of the parole counsel, each of these is performed in many hospitals. Dordrecht (1978) also used the 1971 mean equivalent market values for these task areas to determine the average value of annual volunteer service which was $830 per volunteer. As an aggregate, the 5,334 volunteers that were referred through the Metro Toronto Volunteer Centre provided services that were valued at the 1976 inflated rate of nearly $5,334,000. These statistics illustrate the value of volunteerism and how hospitals utilizing volunteers benefit from more work being completed for less money and, as a result, the community will benefit from the work being done by volunteers.
Volunteers also spend by not only volunteering their time, but they do not get refunded for activities such as transportation, childcare, and so on. These may show an indirect donation to the hospital that benefits from the works of volunteers. In the case of volunteers, the hospital spends the same costs in hiring, managing, and reimbursing volunteers, expect volunteers get reimbursed in the form of non-monetary means as a sign of appreciation. Furthermore, volunteers are not paid to reduce the rising cost of healthcare, but they perform the same functions as paid hospital employees. Based on this, the costs for handling volunteers must be recognized. Many volunteers come in for shorter periods than paid works, which causes continuous hiring and training, as retaining volunteers is more difficult than paid employees who can get monetary charges for leaving the job.
Volunteers can provide financial benefits to hospitals. In the past, volunteers were primarily used in hospital settings to run gift shops, perform fund-raising activities and assist with patients. However, due to economic pressure from managed care organizations, hospitals need to maximize resources and are exploring new ways to utilize volunteers. They are now working in non-medical service areas requiring governing responsibilities and enhanced fundraising. Another benefit recognized in the literature about the work done by volunteers is the higher prosperity among individuals to donate to the organization in which they volunteer. Thus, the nature of volunteer services has expanded and includes a variety of tasks and duties. This has led volunteer opportunities to continue without further raising the rising costs of healthcare.
However, the fact of assigning money to volunteer activities is a bit of a controversial topic. Some arguments argue that volunteers should be paid for their work whereas others are against it because doing so suggest that assigning a monetary value to volunteerism may devalue the act of volunteering and “doesn’t feel right”. Many non-governmental organizations do not keep accurate records making bookkeeping difficult. Organizational management include volunteer time in financial reports that occur frequently because they make the organization appear less efficient. Furthermore, the benefits from volunteerism are often intangible and therefore difficult to quantify. In the article, Be Careful What We Wish For! The Cost-Benefit Analysis of Volunteering. Graff (2001) is of the opinion that many cost-benefit analyses of volunteerism fail to account for intangible benefits of volunteers and may hurt volunteer programs. Whereas, Ellis (1999) suggests that because we live in a world consumed with money, without the assignment of dollar value, volunteer programs will not get the attention they need to get. She argues that volunteer tasks should be calculated based on the performed tasks and what those tasks would cost if were being performed by a paid employee.
Dordrecht (1978) also discusses the issue of the economic value of volunteer activity. He provides a definition of economic volunteer service which differs from the traditional definition of volunteer activity. Traditionally, volunteer activity is considered any action that is not paid for excluding school, church or other recreational attendance. On the other hand, economic volunteer service “produces new economic value by applying a conventional economic factor of production” including labor, time, and capital.
Volunteers bring added value to the hospital to be more productive to fulfill their aims and develop a more diverse workforce. This help to reduce hospital costs because they work for less and the community benefit from the work being performed by them. Furthermore, volunteer managers will be extending their skill set by gaining such management experience. This encourage people to involve in community work who would not necessarily have been involved by offering flexibility in terms of their commitment for example giving time outside of core 9-5 business hours. This helps to connect people who would be unlikely to have met in any other walk of life and translates into a greater range of skills, and perspective that can be drawn upon.
In addition, volunteers fill many gaps left unoccupied by paid hospital employees. This might be true in times when the hospital is short staffed such as nursing shortages. This may cause volunteers to possess skills such as computer, accounting, engineering, and legal skills that can help in the smooth functioning of a hospital. Furthermore, they are options to patients and clients to have the time to offer individualized attention while employees may not. Thus, it is believed that the humanization of services offered by volunteers adds to the quality of the hospital and enhances patient satisfaction.
Volunteers play important roles in patient care and various support services in hospitals that contribute to the added comfort and happiness of patients, their families, and visitors. Volunteers provide the extra pair of hands to reduce staff workload and thereby effectively supplement the existing staff for nonmedical services. Also, volunteers assist patients with punctual responds to their nonmedical needs and reduce the anxieties of being vulnerable and alon. Furthermore, when the number of hospitals increase and become more specialized and technologically enlightened, the successful use of volunteers is important in maintaining human and personal touch. This helps to create healthier, welcoming and more inclusive communities among citizens to embrace the concept and move beyond individual reliance. Also, working with patients and with health professionals, volunteers help not only to contain expenses but also, they affect the level of care and comfort provided.
However, most patients do not different between volunteers and paid staffs which make an impact on customer experience (Handy & Srinivasan, 2004). Therefore, volunteers should be given the same training given to staff members and also get evaluated based on their customer service skills to improve their performance if needed. Volunteers should be encouraged to give suggestions for improvement. Also, using volunteers in more patient settings allows volunteers to be open and give hospitals feedbacks quickly on areas that need improvement. Both patients and carers agreed that volunteer-led activities are effective and should continue. Staff members including managers reported that they saw a difference in the patients’ well-being enhanced by having someone to talk to and who had the time to listen. These positive outcomes were considered by staff to be due to social interactions and the volunteers meaningful activities. Staff also reported that they recognize the potential intervention to improve patient experience. Furthermore, staff also reported that the volunteers supported an improvement in the quality of care, they helped patients with physical care, as well as providing company and believed this led to a smoother recovery from operations and enabled them to provide better care for the other patients on the ward as they had extra time. Volunteerism creates an understanding between community groups which has helped to build community social networks and cohesion. This has increased people’s contact from different community or religious backgrounds to integrate and improve their way of living (Irvine and Schubotz, 2010). This helps to develop skills such as self confidence that impact community services to increase the range of friendships, participation in local activities and social gatherings. These skills contribute to community development as a useful way of maintaining social networks and find creative and meaningful ways of utilizing their skill as well as maintaining their civic engagement.
Volunteers also contribute to hospitals in several areas behind the scenes that are not directly related to patient care. These duties include facilitating clerical tasks, public relations, and communications within the hospital and community and can provide valuable insights into policymaking by serving on boards, committee, and task forces. This practice provides citizens with the opportunity to play an active role in identifying problems in their community and finding solutions.
Volunteers bridge the relationship between the hospital and local communities because they act as good ambassadors for the hospital in their communities. Volunteers in the public sector raise the profile of the hospital in the community and support many of the outreach programs that hospitals conduct such as education, recruitment, volunteer and donations (Handy & Srinivasan, 2004). These are all important components in community development. This practice helps the hospital to develop a strong relationship with the community and to market itself to potential new staff. Lastly, volunteers contribute significantly in enhancing the quality of care in hospitals and are perceived by hospital staff members as important resources in providing the personal touch for patients and their family. This personal touch cannot be underestimated, as anyone who has been in a vulnerable situation can testify. Hospitals with well-organized volunteer programs use volunteer hours effectively which help in the smooth running of the hospital. They provide soft services that are essential to comfort patients, decrease and support the staff workload as they assist with many of the essential nonmedical interactions with patient. This helps health professions to concrete more on different tasks that require more medical attention. Volunteers provide company in difficult times of advanced medical technology which often leave patients unconscious, alienated, and vulnerable. This contribution is difficult to quantify in financial terms, as its monetization cannot measure many of the intangible benefits. Furthermore, volunteers are also more likely to donate to the hospitals in response to their fund-raising campaigns. Indirectly, volunteers act as goodwill ambassadors for the hospital in their community from which the hospital draws its resources and clients. Therefore, it is not a suggestion that volunteers should replace paid labor or care needs but rather balance the services provided by volunteers and paid labors in order to not cause friction with unions.
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