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Supporting Volunteers in our New Normal

Posted By Eileen Pelletier, CAVS, Friday, October 2, 2020

“One reason people resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up instead of what they have to gain.”  Rick Godwin

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed hospital volunteerism and volunteer management as we know it. Our clinical colleagues have been forced to adapt and change, and so have we.

It seemed incredible to us that hospitals could just shut down volunteer activity and still function. We entered the realm of the unknown and made the best decisions we could. Due to those decisions, many of us in volunteer management have been redeployed, assigned responsibility for other efforts and even been furloughed. It has certainly been a time of new challenges for all of us.

This is not a situation any of us wanted to be in, but it is a situation we can all look at as an opportunity. Volunteer management is a profession that demands many different skills. This is the time to show your competence in many areas: matching the right people to the right role, like scheduling or customer service. Excelling in your new role can only prove your necessity to your organization. Be creative. Be a leader. If you don’t have one yet, this may even get you a “seat at the table.”

While you are showcasing your own value, do not forget to do the same for your volunteers. Keep in touch with them through calls, cards and newsletters. Encourage them to remain involved in any way they are comfortable. Perhaps you have invited your volunteers back and they can return to their original or a different role. They may also be able to change, as you did, to a new or virtual role. These may include virtual PFAC meetings, calls to patients or tutoring employees’ children. Others may want to do more in their community, such  as making masks or collecting distraction items for patients. 

Some of these tasks may also be done in a way that can support the hospital in the “new normal” even after volunteers are back in person. The modifications we are currently making to the patient experience volunteer role at my hospital include volunteers making calls to patients to reduce the number of individuals entering their rooms. This change could continue to operate and be of value in the future to all our patients in isolation, which would provide tremendous support to our Patient Experience team. My advice is to think long-term improvement, not just immediate necessary modifications.

Be sure to keep your volunteers in the spotlight. Write articles for your newsletter. Post items on your facility’s Facebook feed. Volunteers continue to do incredible work in new ways and have dealt with the change in their roles in the same way we have – with an attitude of how they can be of more assistance and gain new skills and interactions.

Most of us have concerns about the future of our profession and volunteerism in healthcare. I encourage everyone to focus not on the loss of our previous norm but to look at this time as an opportunity to gain relevance and value.


Eileen Pelletier is the Director of Volunteer Services at Hartford Hospital, Hartford, CT. Her responsibilities include program oversight for multiple campuses and satellites, program development, recruitment, retention and recognition of volunteers and the staff they support. Pelletier started off her career in cytotechnology, but after a few years of looking in a microscope all day, she realized she needed more interaction with people.  Having earned an M.S. in healthcare administration, she landed in  Volunteer Services and knew right away it was the right place for her.  With 24 years at Hartford Hospital, Pelletier still loves the uniqueness of her role. 

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