With just two days to go until this year’s Care Home Open Day, organisers are reminding operators of the benefits of the initiative to residents, staff and the local community.
Care Home Open Day is an opportunity for care homes to open their doors once a year to create links between care home residents and people in the surrounding area, and to show that care homes are filled with interesting people run by staff who care.
Recent research highlights that where care homes permanently open their doors to the local community, the positive impacts go far beyond creating links and dispelling myths. Residents experience improvements to their well-being with relatives, staff, volunteers, and the home itself also benefiting.
The evaluation of the Volunteering in Care Homes Project found that volunteers recruited to roles to befriend residents or to support them in social activities has a significant impact on the residents’ social and emotional wellbeing.
The involvement of volunteers delivers fundamental socialisation, company and ‘someone to talk to’. This includes providing long term one-to-one befriending, help to settle within the home, support in overcoming bereavement and reduced distress and anxiety. This in turn impacts on relatives, offering peace of mind and minimising negative feelings of anxiety or guilt.
For the staff, the involvement of volunteers has a positive impact on their satisfaction with their job (68%), retention (61%), stress levels (71%) and feelings of job security (54%). The reasons for these findings are unclear but one explanation is that volunteers add capacity, in the form of time and skills, in roles that complement, not replace, staff roles.
Volunteers are evidence that the care home is safe, responsive, caring, effective, and well led. Staff in the project recognised that the presence of volunteers could impact positively on their being able to achieve a higher rating from the Care Quality Commission.
The benefits are not all one sided. Volunteering is a reciprocal activity with volunteers gaining in skills, experience and confidence from their involvement. In particular, young people’s experience of volunteering can help them to secure a place in employment or further education and some in the project even saw a career for themselves in the sector.
As with Care Home Open Day, those who have a good experience within the home act as ambassadors and share that positive experience with others, challenging negative misconceptions about older people, dementia and social care and breaking down barriers between the home and community.
Making the transition
Moving from an annual open day to reap the benefits of permanently keeping your doors open to the community does require some planning and investment. But help is at hand.
The Volunteering in Care Homes Toolkit brings together the practical learning from the project and contains guidance, references to other helpful resources and organisations, and templates on how to set up a volunteering programme in a care home.
The research highlights, however, that to maximise the potential of volunteering, the toolkit needs to be accompanied by investment in staff time and skills to take forward the volunteer management role. Without this time and function, volunteers will not feel supported or valued, leading to high volunteer turnover which in turn will unsettle residents and relatives and create further work for staff, as they seek to recruit, induct and train new volunteers to fill the vacant roles.
Opening your doors is a win-win situation for all involved.
Residents’ social and emotional wellbeing improves, relatives have peace of mind, staff experience job satisfaction and reduced stress levels and the volunteers are supported in their personal and/or career development. The benefits to the business and sector range from adding value, supporting regulatory requirements, improving the reputation of the sector to nurturing the workforce of the future.
However, taking that step to permanently open your doors will require an investment in the infrastructure and culture within the home. To maximise the volunteering potential, volunteers need to be supported by an organisation and staff team who are equipped to perform their volunteer management roles and responsibilities and value the unique contributions of volunteers.
This article first appeared on the Care Home Open Day website. Click here for more information.