Skills-based volunteers support safety and best practices at Markham Stouffville Hospital

Volunteers are an integral part of any organization, but often, volunteers are behind the scenes and on the sidelines. When Markham Stouffville Hospital introduced the Expect Respect program at the Markham site of the hospital, volunteers were put front and center to support patient safety initiatives and best practices.

The Expect Respect Program began in the spring of 2010 and was introduced to support the hospital’s commitment to providing a safe environment for patients, staff and volunteers and in response to Bill 168, Amendment to the Occupational Health and Safety Act relating to Violence and Harassment in the Workplace. This program first began internally and training was provided for all staff and volunteers. The program then extended to patients to educate them on safety, their rights and responsibilities and what they can expect from their health care providers.

In a fast-paced and high-demand environment like a surgical unit, nurses and clinical staff are pressed for time so when Markham Stouffville Hospital introduced the Expect Respect program, it became apparent that additional resources were required to educate patients on their role in safety.

For the Community Resources Department, there was an obvious solution that many people wouldn’t have thought of – volunteers. “When we began planning for the program launch, we knew it would not be feasible for clinical staff to spend time educating patients on our Expect Respect program so we had to find a solution. We quickly realized we had numerous volunteers with experience in customer service and health care who could apply their skills and expertise and make this program a success. It turned out that we had more than a solution, we had team of professionals,” says Magda Rigo, Director, Community Resources and Organizational Development.

Seven volunteers with the appropriate skills for the position were recruited and began training for their roles as patient safety volunteers. After the initial training session, one of the patient safety volunteers, Sheila Haddad, a retired health care professional, took the reins and began training fellow volunteers one-on-one and having them shadow her during patient education visits. Sheila’s experience in health care, which includes 15 years atToronto GeneralHospitaland 15 years at The Hospital for Sick Children, allowed her to teach the other volunteers how to interact with patients, how to modify the education for each patient and how to report to the nurses upon completion of each visit.

“After all my years in health care, this is one of the most necessary and meaningful programs that I have been involved with – it’s a huge task to take on and it’s complicated and involves a lot of planning but the outcome has been amazing. Every hospital should adopt a program like Expect Respect, it makes relationships better, it makes care better and it makes each health-care experience safer for everyone,” says Haddad.

The Expect Respect program has been up and running for just over a year now and the feedback has been exceptional. Patients appreciate the program and find the educational visit to be very helpful. Patients in specific areas are visited by a patient safety volunteer shortly after admission. During each visit, a volunteer gives the patient a brief overview of the program and leaves an Expect Respect booklet behind for them to read during their stay. The booklet outlines patient rights and responsibilities, what patients can expect from their health-care providers (e.g. you can expect before we give you care we will clean our hands) and what patients and visitors can and cannot bring into the hospital. The booklet also explains how patients can be safe and how they can be an active member of their health-care team. The last few pages include spaces to write down names of their health-care providers and any questions or concerns they have.

“Most of the patients I visit read the booklet from cover to cover, fill out the names of their health-care team and jot down questions as they think of them. This is such an important part of the program – having that booklet to reference makes the hospital visit much safer for patients and it gives them a place to keep track of their questions and make sure they don’t forget to ask something,” says Bob Burrell, Patient Safety Volunteer.

Since the program was rolled out, the volunteers have taken on a frontline role in patient safety and best practices and have, at the same time, alleviated some of the workload of the clinical staff.

“By having the volunteers explain our commitment to safety and the shared responsibility of ensuring a safe hospital stay, the clinical staff have more time to go over medical information, making the quality of care better for everyone,” says Rigo.

Markham Stouffville Hospital’s Markham site has over 700 volunteers in total and each day there are between 70 to 80 volunteers contributing to the overall functioning of the hospital. Ensuring that the right volunteer is placed in the right role is crucial – it may take extra time to learn what each person has to offer and what skills and personality traits they have to contribute to the organization, but the outcome of determining an appropriate placement is worth the effort.

“Recruiting volunteers for specific skills-based roles that align with their experience, personality and interests can open many doors for organizations. If you invest the time to properly screen, place and train your volunteers, the possibilities are endless,” explains Sue Bautista, Coordinator, Community Resources.

For more information about the Expect Respect program, email

Comments are closed.