You Can’t Put a Value on Safety: Running Background Checks on Health Care Volunteers

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The opportunities to volunteer within health care organizations are virtually endless. From assisting with disaster response to chatting with patients, health care volunteers help lower labor costs and fill in service gaps.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between September 2010 and September 2011, there were about 64.3 million volunteers in the U.S. Of this population, 7.7 percent (a little over 4.9 million individuals) volunteered in a hospital or health care setting. Plus, 3.1 percent (almost 2 million people) volunteered to provide medical care, counseling and emergency protective services (for example, as an EMS).

Examples of types of volunteer work within the health care industry include:

  • Working as a greeter or at an information desk at a hospital
  • Assisting donors at a blood bank or blood drive
  • Clerical and office duties
  • Visiting those receiving in-patient services
  • Running a book cart or a patient support center
  • Translation and interpretation services
  • Acting as a courier within a hospital system
  • Data entry and record updating
  • Research
  • Transportation services
  • Assisting with care in an area affected by a disaster
  • Donating expertise in the field (for example, a retired doctor volunteering at a rural community clinic)

When Volunteerism Goes Wrong
With volunteers serving such critical roles in the health care industry, it’s natural to assume that organizations seek and only accept the best contingent workers, especially since they may work with some of the most vulnerable populations. This may not be the case, however, if the healthcare organization does not have a background screening program established for all of its volunteers.

In 2012, news outlets revealed that a popular organization for children and youth refused to run background checks on its volunteers for decades, claiming that the screens would scare away potential volunteers, weren’t effective and cost too much money.

As a result, the organization allowed hundreds of adults with histories of molestation and abuse to work with the minors in its programs. When the organization finally adopted a volunteer background screening policy, it had a major flaw—it didn’t require the screening of its current volunteers. Incidentally, many volunteers who had a past abuse convictions continued to harm children.

While this news story isn’t about health care organizations, it shows how easily predators can damage the reputation of an organization and hurt a volunteer program that’s meant to help others.

Health Care Volunteer Screening Best Practices
In addition to running a criminal background check on its volunteers, a health care organization needs to also verify that they don’t have any medical sanctions or exclusions.

While a volunteer background screen many not necessarily have to be identical to one run on medical staff, administrators or caregivers, a thorough screen can help mitigate serious risks. The following list identifies some health care volunteer screening and monitoring best practices:

  • Criminal checks: Investigate an individual’s criminal history by conducting searches that may help identify additional potential criminal records information. Examples of such searches include HireRight’s Widescreen Plus™ service, statewide criminal checks, National Sex Offender Registry checks and Adult Abuse Registry checks
  • Sanction checks and monitoring: Look for sanctions and exclusions on current and updated lists, particularly if a volunteer provides medical care, works directly with patients or handles patient information
  • Identity checks: Including Social Security number validation and, if the volunteer is assisting with driving, a motor vehicle record check
  • Drug tests: A health care facility may choose to include urine drug tests as part of an ongoing volunteer screening and monitoring program

In summary, an effective background check program can help to identify health care volunteers who should not have access to patients or employees, and possibly weed out individuals who pose a risk to an organization’s brand.

Free Report: Best Practices of Background Screening in the Health Care Industry
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Best Practices: Background Screening in the Health Care Industry

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HireRight is a leading provider of on-demand employment background checks, drug and health screening, and electronic Form I-9 and E-Verify solutions that help employers automate, manage and control background screening and related programs.

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The HireRight Blog is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be comprehensive, and is not a substitute for and should not be construed as legal advice. HireRight does not warrant any statements in the HireRight Blog. Any statutes or laws cited herein should be read in their entirety. You should direct to your own experienced legal counsel questions involving your organization’s compliance with or interpretation or application of laws or regulations and any additional legal requirements that may apply.