How to Volunteer at Your Local Nursing Home: 5 Steps

Contributing writer, former long-term care admissions counselor and social worker

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Volunteering at a nursing home may be one of the most rewarding things you can do with your time. If you are considering becoming a volunteer in a nursing home, you may be welcomed with open arms wherever you choose to give your time.

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Volunteers can be utilized in many areas within a nursing home, such as assisting with activities, helping with mealtime, or playing an instrument for residents. 

With that said, there are some steps you should consider before grabbing your favorite musical instrument and running out the door. Nursing homes vary in their requirements and application process. We’ve distilled the process to volunteer at a nursing home in five main steps below.

Step 1: Research Nursing Homes 

Start with a basic search online, and culling options from there. Devise a list of your top choices of where you’d like to volunteer your time. You can select your top choices based on location, what the nursing home offers its senior residents, the size of the facility, or other factors.

After finalizing a list, you can find open volunteer positions in two ways. You can search for posted volunteer opportunities or by reaching out to a nursing home directly.

Volunteer websites

Some nursing home facilities choose to utilize online postings to get the word out about volunteer opportunities at their nursing home. Similar to a job board, the posting will have a job description and way to apply or get in contact with someone to start the application process. 

Helpful websites for volunteer opportunities include:

Nursing home search 

If you prefer to look for a nursing home directly, this will lead to many more possibilities. A quick Google search of “nursing homes near me” will populate some responses, but there are also some dedicated websites that make it easy to find nursing home facilities based on location or name, including: 

Create your list of the nursing homes you’d like to learn more about, and reach out to them directly.

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Step 2: Set up a Visit 

Before making a final decision on your volunteer location, consider calling them and setting up potential times to tour the facility/facilities. At a nursing home, the best person to reach out to is the volunteer coordinator, who will guide you the rest of the way.

If you did not get this information from a volunteer website, you should first inquire about their need for volunteers, as mentioned in Step 1. Set up a time to come and speak with the volunteer coordinator and take a look around.

Be prepared

Although you are just touring, you never know who you will run into or what you might be able to do when you are there. Dress professionally, bring your driver’s license or another form of government ID, and any references you have.

Should you decide on the spot that this is the place for you, bringing those documents along can help you can get a start on any paperwork. Finally, be prepared to jump into an activity if the opportunity presents itself. 

Ask questions

Have your questions ready! Are you volunteering for fun or for school? Be sure to ask how hours are tracked and who manages volunteers if this is important for you. 

Other questions to consider asking include:

  • How many hours per week can I expect as a volunteer?
  • What are volunteers mostly used for?
  • Do I have a choice in my assignments?
  • Do I need a physical or any shots before starting?

Inquire about the next steps 

Even if you’re not sure about committing to this nursing home, ask what the next steps are. Have an idea of what the application and orientation process is and who you would get in contact with should you have any follow up questions. 

Step 3: Applying and Additional Paperwork

At this point, you still may have a few contenders and that’s ok. Facilities vary in their application, whether they be in-person applications or submitting a form online.

When you sit down to complete your application be sure to have adequate time to complete it. Don’t rush through questions, and make sure to convey your genuine interest in their facility and why you are choosing them to volunteer with them.

On top of submitting the application, double-check your government IDs and any other supplementary forms of identification. In addition, make sure to have trusted, useful references to provide in your application as well. Submit your application and follow up in a week or so if you do not hear from the facility before then.  

Step 4: Interview and Background Check

If your application was accepted, make sure to prepare for some form of an interview or mock volunteer session. As mentioned, nursing homes vary as far as their interview process, paperwork needed, training and orientation. 

Interview

An interview is a great way to make a positive first impression. Show up dressed appropriately, prepared with a copy of your resume, identification and anything further they may have asked you to bring along. 

During the interview, expect your interviewer to ask questions about prior experiences and why you want to be a part of their team. Much like a job interview, you may want to prepare your answers ahead of time to keep you relaxed and ensure you are not caught off guard. 

Here are some common interview questions:  

  • Why do you want to volunteer with us?
  • Have you worked with senior citizens before? 
    • If so, what was your experience?
  • What do you hope to get out of your experience volunteering with us? 

It’s also a good idea to have questions ready for your interviewer. Similar to questions you may have asked during your tour, you may ask about the next steps or what to expect as a volunteer. 

A nice bonus is to send a thank you card or email to your interviewer thanking them for the opportunity to interview, reiterating your interest in the volunteer position and stating you look forward to hearing from them soon. 

Criminal background check

A background check is a requirement to work in a nursing home. The Centers of Medicare and Medicaid website states that volunteers are subject to the same scrutiny as an employee, and therefore must undergo a criminal background check. 

Drug testing is also a standard practice within the industry with direct care as well, so volunteers should expect to need to submit to a drug test.

Step 5: Orientation and Training

Volunteers will be working with nursing home residents directly, and may need to be familiar with the same policies and procedures as employees. Whatever specific practices a facility may have volunteers undergo, there are some crucial aspects that need to be taught and understood by the volunteer.

  • Job description: The volunteer should be fully understanding of their responsibilities, expectations and the scope of their job as a volunteer. A job description is often presented to the volunteer in writing and is agreed upon and signed. 
  • Infection control: Volunteers should be educated about the risk, signs, and procedures around infection and infection control. 
  • Abus and neglect: Abuse and neglect prevention should be discussed and explained. Orientees should be educated on ways to recognize as well as respond to abuse and neglect. 
  • Safety: Explanation of fire safety procedures and other emergency situations. 
  • HIPAA: Health Insurance Portability and Affordability Act (HIPPA) should be explained to volunteers and agreed that confidentiality should be preserved for residents.

Training

Volunteer training may not be required. Volunteers are not qualified or certified to do nursing or clinical care for residents, so there is no expectation for them to undergo additional training for specific direct care. 

Once you’re all set with orientation, you’re ready to go. You may feel nervous on your first day, and that’s normal. Even if your first assignment isn’t your favorite, keep in mind that you are making a difference and learning something new. Lastly, don’t forget to keep track of your hours if needed.

Volunteering at a Nursing Home: Frequently Asked Questions

Before committing to volunteering, make sure you have all of the information. Here are some of the most common questions people have about volunteering at a nursing home. 

How old do you have to be to volunteer at a nursing home?

There is not a strict rule with this since volunteering can involve so many different things. The best way to find out is to ask the facility you would like to volunteer with directly. 

What are some duties a nursing-home volunteer might be responsible for?

Volunteers are so helpful to nursing homes because they can help and support staff and residents in so many ways!

They can provide entertainment, assist with transportation, sit with residents for the company, help run activities, be an extra set of eyes and ears, assist with meal times, and many more things. 

Why should people volunteer at a nursing home?

Volunteers are highly regarded and greatly appreciated no matter where they are.

Nursing home volunteers may not only feel the reward of giving back to the elderly, but they get advice from wise senior citizens every day. You may also find yourself developing a close and new friendship with some of the folks you’re helping.

Your Choice to Volunteer is a Noble One 

If you are choosing to give your time to others, you owe it to yourself to make sure you choose a place you enjoy. 

When choosing the nursing home to volunteer at, make sure you align with their vision and believe in their mission. The nursing home you choose will be lucky to have you, your help is truly appreciated.


Sources

  1. Leading Age Ohio. “CMS Clarifies Rule on Volunteers, Contractors.” www.leadingageohio.org/aws/LAO/pt/sd/news_article/165500/_BLANK/ebulletin_layout_newsletter_details/false

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