On March 12, my hospital had just under 400 active volunteers in our department. A day later, they were all put on a leave of absence as the program was suspended when stay-at-home orders for the state began in the wake of the pandemic. With a very small exception, hospitals up and down the state experienced something similar. At that time, many in the profession wondered what would happen to our beloved volunteers and what would happen to the departments we ran. Now, more than six months later, I have only returned a small handful to active service within the medical center. Ironically, the Volunteer Services department is now actually busier with greater responsibility than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic was a catalyst for shifted responsibilities, assigned projects, and new innovative volunteer opportunities that have illuminated the applicability of the Volunteer Services department and those who lead it. Early on, we shifted our volunteer focus to making handmade cloth masks because that was what was needed from us. On the heels of that shift, we became the point of contact for all the generous offers from local eateries and donors who wanted to provide a meal or treat for hospital workers. Those challenges were eagerly met head on and successfully implemented, including a candy donation from See’s Candies valued at $25, which had to be distributed to every department in an orderly, socially distanced way.
Shifting these activities to the Volunteer Services department was not only helpful to the time and priorities of others, but it also showcased the strengths, talents, and abilities of the Volunteer Services department. Volunteer leaders have a wealth of skill sets in coordination and logistics as well as communication and motivation; they know what it takes and have the ability to get things done. Being able to broadcast that in response to an immediate need shed a spotlight on a little department that has always been welcome but maybe has not always been seen for all it could contribute to the organizational needs. COVID-19 did that; it shed that light.
As the pandemic wears on and we adjust to this new reality, the relevancy to mission critical activities has persisted. Like others in my profession, I am now overseeing the point-of-entry screener paid staff at our entrances. I have also been assigned a large-scale employee morale campaign. This last assignment has also created a host of needs that can be met, at least in part, with the assistance of volunteers via remote and virtual opportunities.
Our volunteer program is no longer suspended, but for the greater organizational good we have changed the ways in which we place volunteers. No longer is the need greatest in the traditional, pre-pandemic roles that volunteers played within the hospital walls. Right now, we have the opportunity to create new applicability and new relevancy as we remain flexible and open to the roles that volunteers can play in meeting the hospitals’ most pressing needs. And in so doing, we can highlight our professional skill sets and our bodies of knowledge that make us not just skilled at leading volunteers but in getting the job done.