Why It’s Important for Health Care Providers to Screen Volunteers

February 22, 2024

From taking care of important non-medical tasks to making patients feel comfortable – volunteers contribute massively to healthcare organizations of all shapes and missions. 

But with lives on the line, it becomes vital to screen every volunteer before making them a part of the team. This process must be an important priority for healthcare providers, even though volunteers may be civilians from backgrounds that aren’t related to healthcare. Background checks and onboarding processes must be comprehensive to ensure you not only onboard the best people but also ensure the emotional and physical well-being of your patients. 

Why Healthcare Industries Need Volunteers 

Healthcare volunteers play many key roles in assisting healthcare professionals. They become a strong backbone for important non-medical tasks. These tasks can include: 

  • Data entry and patient registration 
  • Overseeing waiting areas and greeting patients 
  • Overseeing administrative work
  • Distributing information and other health literature to families and patients

By taking care of important non-clinical tasks, volunteers allow healthcare professionals to spend more time on medical tasks they’re qualified to perform.  These volunteers can also offer key interactions on behalf of the clinic to provide positive services and experiences to its patients. 

Including volunteers in their clinic workforce also allows nonprofits, charities, and other healthcare institutions to reduce the overall expenses of running the clinic. But the only way volunteers can create a positive impact is when they’re screened, trained, and supported appropriately. 

Understanding Different Types of Volunteers 

According to a Volunteering in America report, up to “60.7 million adults volunteered 4.1 billion hours in 2021. Understanding why people volunteer and the types of volunteers willing to contribute their time and talent can help you choose the right team for your clinic. Before you start your volunteer screening process, however, it’s important to understand the four main types of volunteers:

  • The “Always Show Up” Volunteers. These volunteers are willing to show up regularly and become an important part of the team. They are a favorite of organizations because of their consistency, reliability, and dependability. And because these volunteers become an important and daily part of the organization, it’s vital to screen them well. 
  • The “Good-Hearted” Volunteers. These volunteers often volunteer to work with children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. They must be screened well because they often work with the more vulnerable populations. 
  • The “One-Day” Volunteer. These volunteers usually sign up to volunteer (perhaps) once a year. Given the nature of their tasks, these volunteers don’t usually require full background checks, but organizations must gather basic info such as name, address, and phone alongside keeping a record of their presence.
  • The Court Ordered Volunteer. These volunteers are ordered by the court to work a certain number of community service hours. Organizations must run comprehensive background checks to better understand their criminal record, the type of offense, and what work they may be allowed to perform. 

Why Screen Your Volunteers? 

Now that you know the type of volunteers you’ll be welcoming into your organization, it’s time to understand exactly why you must screen each volunteer before they team up with you.

Staying in Contact with Vulnerable Populations

This is a no-brainer: volunteers interacting with defenseless communities such as the elderly, people with disabilities, and children must be screened and qualified for the best results. 

Adherence to Laws and Regulations 

Screening volunteers is an important first step to avoid any potential liabilities, lawsuits, and fines. A simple screening procedure during recruitment and onboarding is often enough to ensure your patients are in safe hands.

Ensuring Safety and Trust

Creating an environment of trust and safety starts with hiring the right employees and volunteers. While some organizations are not officially required to screen volunteers, it is still prudent to dive into volunteer backgrounds based on the types of volunteers you onboard. Your screening procedures should also consider the role each volunteer would be playing. For instance, you might need special background checks if a volunteer has access to financial resources (credit checks) or uses an organization-owned vehicle (driving record check). 

Mitigating Risk and Liabilities 

While volunteers are protected by the Volunteer Protection Act, there are no regulations in place to protect institutions from volunteer liabilities. These liabilities could include discrimination, violence, harassment, and negligence. Volunteer screening is typically the only way to ensure you bring in people you can trust. 

How to Communicate Screenings with Volunteers 

While background checks are vital before a would-be volunteer becomes a part of your team, communication is key to ensure your screening process actually works. Be crystal clear about what requirements and expectations you may have forfrom your volunteers. Explain to your would-be volunteers why background checks and comprehensive screening processes are a part of your hiring cycle. The Volunteers of America is an excellent example of how healthcare (or other) organizations can clearly communicate their volunteer program. That said, here are a few ways you can communicate “volunteer experience” with those you hire from start to end:

  • Emails. Create informational campaigns that will take your volunteers through exactly what’s expected of them, and how their role will make a difference in your organization. 
  • Blogs and news articles. A great way to pass detailed information about how your screening process works and what will be expected of volunteers once they become a part of the team is to publish informational articles and blogs. 
  • Flyers. Craft informational sheets that detail what your volunteers will be doing, where they’ll be working, and how long they’ll be working. 

Communication is key to creating transparency around your screening process and helping your volunteers ease into their tasks. 

Types of Background Checks for Volunteers 

Background checks form an essential part of the screening process. Here are a few important types of checks your volunteers must expect to journey through:

  • Criminal background check 
  • Driving record check 
  • Sex offender database
  • Credit check 
  • Drug tests
  • ID verification 
  • Employment verification 
  • Education verification 
  • Civil conviction checks 

Your Volunteers are a Special Bunch! 

Great volunteers are a gift to any organization they work with. However, these volunteers can only be found with a well-designed screening process. This is why deploying a trusted third-party screening service can help healthcare institutes swim through complex data clutter to find the best candidates. 

Many healthcare organizations depend heavily on the talents, contributions, and dedication of volunteers. Regardless of the types of volunteers you welcome into your team, always remember to treat them with respect and maintain trust and transparency by clearly communicating your screening process from the very beginning.