Jul 09, 2019

A Lot Of Aged Care Volunteers Are Made To Feel Unwanted By Facilities

Given the fact that so many of the problems in residential aged care come down to a lack of staffing, you would think that unpaid volunteers would be treated as one of the most valuable assets that any aged care facility could have.

Volunteers can be used in a variety of ways within an aged care home, from making cups of coffee and engaging with residents, through to assisting with gardening, reading, and even escorting residents to appointments. 

With some of the current workload pressures facing many residential aged care workers, time constraints have taken a toll on staff’s ability to engage with residents on a personal level, which is one of the factors that has resulted in feelings of social isolation and depression reaching epidemic proportions.

Yet despite this obvious need for meaningful engagement and assistance, many of those who do volunteer, or have tried to volunteer in an aged care facility, have felt that they were treated more like an inconvenience than someone trying to help. 

Last year HelloCare reported on the story of a nine-year-old piano playing prodigy named Summer Wooten, who spent over a year performing at an aged care facility in the Melbourne suburb of Ringwood for an audience of adoring elderly residents.

But according to her father Steve, the experience of volunteering was not everything that his daughter hoped it would be.

“Things were really hit and miss, they would give her a time to come and perform, and then sometimes she would get there and they would just say no, not today. I’m not sure if it was the facility, it might have just been the lady who was running activities. I just think she is in the wrong industry if I’m honest.” said Steve.

“We would book a time to go to the facility and sometimes this woman would just send her home. She would say no we don’t have time today, and this is after my daughter had spent the week practicing and planning out the songs for the residents. To get there and be turned away was obviously very upsetting for her.”

“The straw that broke the camel’s back was what occurred at Christmas time. We have four children and our eldest daughter is the one that volunteers and she made her sisters and brothers put on some Christmas gear and learn some dances to perform a Christmas concert for the residents. 

“My daughter even went out and bought the residents gifts with her own pocket money and made Christmas cards for all the residents, but when they got there, the woman in charge just said “Nah, not today. We don’t have time,’ and then walked away. My daughter started bawling her eyes out.

summer j

“I remember thinking, she’s 10 years old, how many 10 year old’s do this stuff? She has an absolute heart of gold and she ended up going home in tears because of what happened. It took us a long time to console her after that, and the facility eventually made another date a few weeks later, but the moment had passed. So we just pulled her out there.”

Trying To Volunteer

One of the great privileges of working for HelloCare is that staff have the opportunity to volunteer their time to an organisation or charity of their choice once a month during normal working hours.

I decided that given the nature of the work I do, volunteering my time to help out at a local aged care facility made the most sense, but I quickly learned that becoming a volunteer is nowhere near as inviting or easy to accomplish as i thought that it would be.

After ringing several homes, it became very obvious that the people I spoke with were not overly enthused about my inquiry, and they were even less interested in telling me what to do in order to actually become a volunteer at their facility. 

 All five of the homes I spoke with told me that they would either email me or have someone call me back, and only one facility actually did. 

My experience with the facility that actually called me back was completely disheartening.

Upon arriving at the facility for an arranged interview, the individual that I was supposed to be meeting with actually forgot I was coming and went home early. I was offered no apology, but I was asked to come in for another chance at an interview and assured that someone would be there to see me.

After an interview that felt as though it went extremely well, I was told that I would have the appropriate paperwork sent out to me to start my journey as a volunteer, but unfortunately, that paperwork never came, despite following up with a phone call.

While I’m sure that my experience is not typical for all facilities, we have received numerous stories throughout the year from volunteers who had been treated poorly and ultimately quit being a volunteer due to feeling undervalued, which is a real shame when you consider just how valuable meaningful engagement is to an elderly person. 

And although my experience really did sour my perceived hopes for volunteering, if there are any aged care facilities in the Bayswater area that could use an extra person to help out and engage with residents, I am more than happy to give up my time to do so. 


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  1. G’day Jakob,

    As an aged care provider I think your headline here is grossly exaggerated. You site one experience from a child with no comment from the care team and in an attempt to dramatise a nothing story you make a sensational style headline.
    Providers welcome volunteers, a police check is required and of course a judgement will be made as to the suitability and perhaps the reason why you want to volunteer in the first place.
    I don’t find it unusual that any facility would be suspicious of a journalist wishing to volunteer. Especially one that earns a living of spreading poorly supported “facts” like this story.
    Lift your game.

    1. Hi Anton,

      I was upfront about my job and made it very clear from the outset that I was not going in looking to find things to write about, and I was simply there to help. We are contacted on numerous occasions throughout the year by people who have been volunteers or have tried to become volunteers who have expressed their disbelief at how they have been treated in homes or when attempting to volunteer. We also have a number of staff at HelloCare who have worked and continue to work in the aged care space that have seen firsthand how undervalued the volunteers at facilities were made to feel. Believe it or not, your experiences in your own facility do not reflect the entire industry as a whole, that said though, we are well aware that there are many organisations that do welcome and treat volunteers the way in which they should be treated and have written a number of stories about the positive personal aspect of volunteering in aged care. This is a link – https://hellocaremail.com.au/mothers-passion-to-volunteer-for-the-elderly/ – to a story that we published two years ago from a woman that had a similar experience to my own, and if you take this into account, along with my story and some of the stories in the comment thread for this article on Facebook, you might get a sense that what you think you know might not exactly be the case for everyone.


    2. Yes. Ofcourse they don’t like volunteers. Alot of facilities don’t want to be cought out with lack of staff and poor staff carers! They see too much. And yes they do report poor care and I cannot blame them. If a facility has nothing to hide then they would open their arms to volunteers. I remember when an Audit was coming alot of the Indians were away for the whole week! Whether they were told to stay away or whether they took sick leave I cannot say for sure but I have been very suspicious of this ever since. Recently an Indian was asked by an Auditor if they were short staffed and she said they weren’t!! Hello! We are always short staffed! The boss recently even put out a nasty and intimidating letter to staff that we are not thinking of our colleagues and the residents when we call in sick and staff should be picking up the phone when the facility calls them. This is even when you are not on for a rostered day!! All out of desperation I would think. The tone of the letter was intimidating. Why do staff stay away? Horrible conditions and a work load only fit for low paid persons! I feel like I have been transported back to the 70’s when you had no rights and working conditions and treatment of staff was dreadful. The only people that join a union in aged care are mostly Australians by the way. Since there is a higher intake of foreigners our conditions never change as they don’t join unions. How convenient for these big businesses.

    3. HA! You have no idea, volunteers are used and abused in a lot of it, especially the young ones, volunteers can’t volunteer for years on end with no job on the horizon, sorry but you have no idea.

  2. Anton did you read the article with an unbiased mind.I think the writer was quite right to put his experiences in offering to volunteer on the record.
    Having worked for years in high care aged care I know for a fact how under valued and under encouraged volunteers are.The problems with understaffing ect could be helped if volunteers were treated as more of a valuable asset than a problem to be dealt with.
    I think your remarks are indicative of the high and mighty attitude that unfortunately seems to prevail with management in this industry.

  3. I volunteer where my MIL is being cared for. When I started they had a very excited person in charge of activities & he had 1 full time & 1 part time person working with him. I had a few ideas & he was happy for me to do these activities with the residents. Every Tuesday he would come say Hi & offer activities for me to do or i’d tell him what I was intending to do. He left, they got a new boss, his position was & is not being replaced. The only time I see their activities person is on our morning walk with the residents & I’m always asking is there any activities on & I have questioned her about the calendar for the residents which has all the activities on it & a few things were missing & she said shhhhh, don’t say anything. She is so over worked. The day time main carer within the Dementia unit was hoping for their own activities person but that has fell on deaf ears & now yesterday she said she is leaving. I am so sad. I go in & they are wanting to do things but my idea is I’m there to help the staff with activities no do it all by myself as I was told I would never be left alone but many a time I am even if the staff are only a few rooms away.

  4. I was a volunteer at our local Aged Care facility for 4 years, until my husband became very ill. I have had times where I go down to the hospital to do a regular activity only to be told it has been cancelled. I have asked why no one phoned me and was told that they had forgotten. The nurses are another thing. If I went to let them know that someone is doing something dangerous I was spoken to like I was an annoyance. The only reason I kept going down was the fact that I cared for the residents. They are so grateful and enjoyed the Tim Tams that I took down for afternoon tea. I realise the nurses see the best and the worse of the residents but if they didn’t have the volunteers they would have to spend more time occupying the residents time. If they don’t like the job then please don’t do it. It’s not worth the attitude that volunteers receive.

  5. I think with so much media attention focused on the aged care sector and the fact that it’s in the midst of a royal commission, aged care facilities would be definitely looking over their shoulders!. It’s a catch 22 situation though, volunteers are worth their weight in gold!. I nursed for 19 years in High care dementia and I loved it ; …BUT… with all the cost cutting , staff shortages, inadequate training and so on it’s a really demanding; stressful occupation. I actually gave up my career due to the demanding work schedule.
    There were MANY times a resident just wanted some one to talk to , a friendly ear a kind smile….One on one time. UNFORTUNATELY there was never enough time, the work load increased and the staffing levels decreased. I worked back more times than I can remember ( unpaid and on MY OWN TIME) just so I could go and have a chat and a cuppa with a resident who was a bit down or not feeling the best. I even stayed back HOURS after my shift had finished to hold the hand of a person who was leaving this earth. The thought of someone dying alone didn’t sit well with me ( These were usually residents who didn’t have family or loved ones )….. Everything is so rushed, I’m sure the staff would love to give that extra time, but with staff shortages; and extra work loads it’s just not possible. Its heartbreaking. I’m NOT by any means pointing fingers ( WELL MAYBE AT THE BEUAROCRATS SITTING IN THEIR OFFICES). It’s a really stressful occupation and if a “Kind ; caring; person ” comes and offers their time. Please greet them warmly and be thankful, these lovely residents DESERVE quality time and the staff would be less stressed ; making for a more harmonious working environment.

  6. I read this article with interest after it appeared in my news feed on FB. My musical daughter just returned home from a day of volunteer performing in the wards of a local hospital and nursing home and her experience is entirely the opposite of the musical prodigy in your article. Everyone at both facilities has been nothing but gracious, thankful, encouraging and kind. She is in her teens, has completed high level studies in her instrument (harp) and doesn’t come with a bunch of siblings so is relatively self-sufficient, unobtrusive, and doesn’t require supervision or constant support or encouragement. Her instrument is portable, so she just finds a spot, sits down and plays her instrument until she senses it is time to move on. We arranged insurance and provided the facilities with a waiver re the risks involved (to her and her instrument) to minimise the impact of her efforts.
    While volunteering is indeed a noble effort and to be commended in all its forms, you do need to realise that it can create an unresolvable burden on the facility, especially in these times of increased scrutiny and risk & compliance requirements on the facilities themselves, and the number of overworked carers who have a job to do that now does not include supervising or “babysitting” the untrained.
    Think kindly, step lightly and be good.

  7. My residential care volunteering experience is somewhere between the two extremes spoken of. Many years of volunteering in the health sector, 25 years of marriage to a stroke survivor, fluent knowledge of the European language the res. centre is catering for, all meant that I was welcomed by the volunteer coordinator and residential manager of the centre. 3 months later, I have seen nothing more of the vol. coordinator (more than 200 volunteers!); “Lifestyle” staff, are minimal, very set in their ways and comments like “You are the new Good Cop, we are the old Bad Cops” gives some indication to attitude. My stated aim of concentrating on “one on one” support, varies greatly, being pushed to do routine “group” activities if lifestyle staff/volunteers lacking. Apart from issues I see with residents and facilities which I will not discuss here, there are also definite issues with some bad choice of volunteers, support and supervision of volunteers, and the inevitable “ticking of boxes” re support and activities, “person centred care”, which all make for re-accreditation, but so often do not happen in real everyday res. centre life. I wish to continue my volunteering, but know that “good volunteers” can very quickly lose incentive, feel like it is all futile. And if I “challenge” the system, I know that those whose place it is to do something about it, are overworked, challenged and dispirited! Following the Royal Commission makes for some hope for the future – but one thing which I think has not been dealt with at all is the place of volunteers in the system! Volunteers in Residential Aged Care need an independent support system!!

    1. Here I am 3 months later, replying to my own post. Not a lot has changed even though I have had discussions with “supervisor/management’ level staff. Numerous volunteers within the system are not seemingly encouraged to “share” with each other. Very slight changes mean I will continue in my volunteering, doing some study on dementia for my own interest. Why, oh why is there no real independent support system for volunteers in Aged Care? Somewhere they can be supported without being seen to be “rocking the boat” and “interfering”? Friendships and relationships with the residents are the only thing worth continuing for. May re-post in another 3 months, and still won’t have found the solution???!!!


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