Dec. 6, 2022 | CHH Foundation, St. Mary's Foundation
by Bradley Burck

Volunteer Services

How to Communicate Value in the Era of Systemness

In a healthcare world changing at the speed of light, Directors of Volunteer Services face a challenge tougher than adapting to ever-shifting Medicare policies. You must convince hospital administrators that your work—and that of volunteers—has value beyond just good community relations and covering menial tasks.

Let’s face it, change is happening, with hospital and other health care facility consolidations taking place nearly every week. At the same time equipment and other costs are rising, government reimbursements are tightening. A decrease in the Medicare conversion factor in the physician fee schedule, coupled with pay-as-you-go sequester, will reduce 2023 Medicare payments by at least 8.5%. That on top of rates that most practices across the nation says failed to cover costs in 2022.1

There are societal factors at work as well. America’s population is aging, with 21% of the population projected to be 65 or older by 2030, meaning increased Medicare enrollment and more chronic health conditions.

The latter are especially troublesome; the Centers for Disease Control says six in every 10 adults has a chronic disease, such as heart disease, stroke or diabetes. Four in 10 have two or more, caused by such factors as tobacco and excessive alcohol use, inactivity and poor nutrition.2

Add to that rising drug costs, healthcare service costs, and the administrative burden of a complex, multi-payor system, and you come up with a forecast that $4.3 trillion of healthcare spending in 2021 will reach $6.0 trillion by 2027.3

In this fast-paced, belt-tightening world, many administrators look at the value of a volunteer hour with skeptical eyes. Despite a recent national survey showing the estimated value of each volunteer hour to nonprofits at $29.95,4 they may see that number as over-inflated. So, knowing what specific values volunteers add to your hospital’s bottom line and efficiency will help you build a stronger argument for the necessity of the DVS office and those you supervise.

However, this still leaves the question: how does a DVS prove their mission is not just valuable to a hospital, but indispensable?

I see five keys to opening this door:

Provide Value

  • Seek out volunteer opportunities in departments that could use extra help. In other words, “work” the hospital. Talk with department leaders to learn more about their challenges and frustrations. Ask if there are ways that you can help fill the gaps. Everyone is overworked. How can you figuratively hold up their arms by providing strategic volunteer help?
  • Finding exceptional volunteers will always be a value-added proposition. For example, my friends at Charleston Area Medical Center in Charleston, West Virginia noticed that it was hard to get computers serviced. So, working with the IT department, they created a job description for IT volunteers. Today CAMC has its first IT volunteer on the ground. This is especially valuable because of the shortage of computer-savvy employees in the workforce.

Data is Queen

  • I’ve heard that communication is King. If that’s the case, then data is Queen Regent. Why? Because good data drives discussions. It shows value and worth.
  • Keep good data. Whatever software program you use, make sure it has built-in reporting, query and export functions. You want to be able to access data in ways that allow you to analyze what it means. Such insights will lead to making better decisions.
  • Know your numbers. Have them at your fingertips so you are the person who knows your numbers, goals and what you need at all times. My favorite historical example of this is when the king of Persia asked his cupbearer, Nehemiah, what he needed to take away his sad demeanor. Nehemiah explained what he was concerned about, and in great detail.
  • Know things like:
    • Number of active volunteers
    • Number of departments served
    • Pressing needs in the organization
    • Number of volunteer hours per year and dollar value of those hours
    • How those hours translate to service merit (i.e., how many patients/families were served, how that increased customer satisfaction)

Communicate

  • Keep department heads up to speed on what’s happening across the hospital from your vantage point.

Be Visible

  • Be seen doing valuable things. Don’t be the “busy body,” but be seen doing valuable activities and helping make things better.

Invite but Not Require

  • Celebrating success is crucial. As you celebrate success with your volunteers, make sure to invite the leadership of your hospital to attend. Be sure you phrase the invitation in a “come if you’re free” style.
  • Remember when you invite leadership to your events that you ensure your messaging is about the importance of volunteering and the value to the hospital. That needs to be communicated to your volunteers AND hospital leadership.

As you contemplate these five keys, recognize the strength undergirding all of them: what you do is valuable. Go and be successful. The future of your hospital depends on it.

Additional Reading

Spelling out your mission and objectives, along with such elements as the minimum requirements for volunteers, your expectations, and specific guidelines—such as professional dress, identification badges, and not being required to raise funds—will increase your department’s efficiency. And, your appearance in the eyes of administrators. A good place to start is by reviewing the volunteer handbook for Johns Hopkins Hospital, rated in the top five of America’s best hospitals.5

Notes

  1. “About Chronic Diseases,” Centers for Disease Control, https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/index.htm, accessed Nov. 30, 2022
  2. “5 reasons why healthcare costs are rising,” Definitive Healthcare, https://www.definitivehc.com/blog/5-reasons-why-healthcare-costs-are-rising, accessed Nov. 30, 2022.
  3. Victoria Bailey, “Medical Groups May Reduce Staff, Patients Amid Medicare Payment Cuts,” Revcycle Intelligence, Sept. 28, 2022, https://revcycleintelligence.com/news/medical-groups-may-reduce-staff-patients-amid-medicare-payment-cuts.
  4. Sara Leonard, “How to Calculate the Value of Volunteer Time,” Nonprofit Leadership Center, April 21, 2022, https://nlctb.org/tips/value-of-volunteer-time/?gclid=Cj0KCQiA-JacBhC0ARIsAIxybyNyxjwqsnm7lD9ULMICDzZaRHa_Zgf3bpT9YaQ0M4ykWrbIsusO3cEaAsY9EALw_wcB.
  5. “The Johns Hopkins Hospital Volunteer Handbook,” https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/volunteer_services/forms/handbook.pdf, accessed Nov. 29, 2022.

This article was taken from a presentation given by Bradley Burck at the Auxiliary of West Virginia Hospital Association state conference at the Greenbrier in November of 2022.