Not just "sweet old ladies" - challenges in voluntary work in the long-term care services
Introduction: The Norwegian government is addressing the need for increased voluntary work in the municipal care sector. Several reforms over the last decades have transferred important care tasks to the municipalities, as it is a political aim for people to live longer in their own homes. Despite important structural changes in the provision of public care services, less attention has been devoted to the investigation of how voluntary work interacts with the overall development of care tasks within municipal care services. This paper aims to discover how the contribution of volunteers matches the current needs of service recipients and the daily work of professional staff and, additionally, to discover what level of volunteer competence and qualifications are considered necessary when cooperating with staff.
Method: Eight case studies addressing opportunities and barriers to voluntary work in long-term care were carried out. Our study included participants from both voluntary organisations and long-term care.
Results: Volunteers were considered to fill important functions and gaps by providing social support, offering activities and by communicating with the service recipients. However, the poor health of service recipients risked putting undue strain on volunteers. Volunteers need to have personal qualifications, such as good observation and communication skills, in order to function well and be useful in their role as volunteers.
Discussion: Care is seen as a complex task requiring time, effort, and technical and social skills. Relational care is not easily distinguished from the overall care needs of service recipients. Service recipients in the municipalities are seen as increasingly frail and have complex health needs. With the expected increase in the number of elderly with dementia in the future, we may need to question whether volunteers are equipped to take on such advanced health problems.
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