Dear Nursing Home,
Why are you rejecting me? Please let me come to your community and be a friend to your residents.
I would like to tell my story. Not because I want to portray nursing homes negatively. I have worked in many nursing homes. The people who work in nursing homes are amongst the most caring and resilient people I have ever met. I am telling this story because I am losing hope and I want nursing homes to be better than this, for both the people who live and work there. I am frustrated with nursing homes.
I Really Want to Volunteer
For the past several years, I have been trying to volunteer at a local nursing home. On the first attempt, I called to determine what I needed to do to become a volunteer. It took some time to get connected to the correct person, we played phone tag, and then a kind person in the activities department asked me to just come in and fill out an application. One snowy afternoon, I walked up to the nursing home and this is the sign that I saw on the front door.
My First Try
Perhaps not the most welcoming entrance, but I have been in many nursing homes, so I pictured an exasperated, hard-working employee who had cleaned the floor 20 times already that morning. Fair enough. Feet wiped, I waited by the reception area and no one acknowledged me.
The blinds to the reception window were half closed, so I walked around the corner to the door and peeked in. “Can I help you?” said a person sitting in the receptionist chair who, wearing scrubs, was likely not the receptionist, but filling in for her co-worker. “Yes, I am here to fill out a volunteer application,” I stated proudly.
There was lot of shuffling, and murmuring, and then a phone call to activities. My activities contact arrived and said, “Oh, yes, I think we have an application somewhere.” More shuffling. Then she handed me the application. It had been copied so many times that it was nearly black. I was so ready to get the process going that I just wrote around the black parts. My activities contact had left, so I handed it back to the receptionist. “Okay”, she said.
I did not hear anything for a few weeks. I called and left a message or two. Someone called me back and said they needed to do a background check. I waited a few more weeks and called again. I learned that my activities contact was no longer there. No one seemed to be able to find my application. I gave up and continued with my life.
One Year Later
A year later, I decided I would try again.
This time I just went to the nursing home in person. They paged the activity director and she came and met me. She was new and so excited that I wanted to spend time with the residents.
“What days can you come in?” she asked. I said I was not looking for a set schedule, I just wanted to visit a few people who live there and get to know them. She seemed surprised, but was grateful and enthusiastic. She asked me to fill out another application.
She said it needed to be processed – they would do a background check – and get back to me. I called soon after to check on the status. She did not know. She sounded overwhelmed. I called again and she was not there anymore.
I gave up.
I should let you know at this point that I do not have a criminal background, in case you are wondering, “Maybe this person is a criminal, and upon learning that, the nursing home does not call her.”
Another Year or Two Later
Another year or two goes by.
I decide to try again.
I am tenacious.
The nursing home has a new owner, and they have an online volunteer application. I am so excited! There is a system! I fill out the application, which appears to be sent to a corporate office. I cc the administrator of the nursing home for good measure.
I email them again. I wait. About six weeks later I get a call. She leaves a voicemail to let me know that she was told I wanted to volunteer and I will need to fill out an application. I call her back. I get someone else.
The person who called me is not in that position any more, she tells me, but she told me all about you. She says I should come and meet with her. I feel good. She sounds confident, determined, and nice. She says I will need to fill out a volunteer application. I tell her I have. “Oh, hmm,” she says. “Well, you will probably need to fill out another one,” and she apologizes.
We set up a time to meet. She cancels. We set up another time to meet. She cancels. She is polite and apologetic and embarrassed. I do not believe it is her fault.
Dear Nursing Home,
How am I to have hope for you?
Almost every nursing home in which I have worked has lamented how they cannot attract or keep volunteers. Undoubtedly, volunteer management requires resources of time and energy, and I know well that it is difficult to find both.
But it is not fair, nursing home, to the people who live there. They deserve better. You deserve better.
You deserve to have other hands and hearts that can help you. Please tell me you can do better.
Because when I see how difficult it is for me to get in the door, and I want to be there, I lose hope. Not just for you, neighborhood nursing home, but for all nursing homes.
The people who live and work in nursing homes deserve better. And if we can’t figure out how to get one person in one neighborhood to be a volunteer, then what else are we not doing?
And yet, I KNOW you can do better. I know because I have met you. And I still love you. I wiped my feet, for crying out loud. What else do I have to do?