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Nurse volunteer who delivers meals to elderly wonders if she can legally do more

Volunteering in any capacity is a way to contribute to others that is quite different from contributing to others while being paid. A volunteer position can use your skills, strengths and other positive attributes in new ways. It also can give you an opportunity to try something new that you have always wanted to try but have not taken the time to do so.

A reader submitted a question about volunteering, which focused on delivering meals to homebound elderly and eating with the elderly in order to provide some companionship as well. This is a very meaningful way to volunteer, so kudos to the nurse who is giving her time and presence to elderly individuals.

However, the nurse wrote that a problem has arisen with her role boundaries because one of the senior’s relatives wants the nurse to also provide nursing care to the individual in the form of checking vital signs and providing basic care on a regular basis. The nurse wonders if she should do so.

One of the foremost issues this nurse will need to explore is how the volunteer role is defined by the organization. How the organization characterizes the role of the nurse volunteer or any volunteer who provides services to its community group is important.

Most volunteer associations are very clear about what a volunteer can and cannot do. Responsibilities, specific hours required and documenting the time spent volunteering are just a few of the guidelines volunteer organizations require.

While providing what is more than likely a much-needed service to senior in the question, the nurse may be unable to visit with the other senior citizens she is assigned to visit, thus depriving them of food and companionship.

It is important to point out that if the nurse were volunteering her time with a clinic or other medical organization that is established to provide home care to elderly citizens, this set of circumstances would be a good fit for the provision of her care.

In addition to being a better fit, the fact she would not be paid for her services while doing so protects her from being sued should any injury occur while providing those services. Under state statutes providing immunity from suit for healthcare providers who volunteer their services, nurses who wish to volunteer may do so without fear of potential professional liability for ordinary negligence.

The nurse also would have the resources and support of other healthcare practitioners who also volunteer their services through the medical organization.

Be sure to determine the requirements of the organization for which you volunteer and stay within those boundaries. The website, United States Health Volunteer Opportunities is a good place to start looking for a volunteer opportunity that may interest you.

NOTE: Nancy Brent’s posts are designed for educational purposes and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice.

By | 2016-03-16T19:56:45-04:00 March 16th, 2016|Categories: Nursing Careers and Jobs|0 Comments

About the Author:

Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN
Our legal information columnist Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN, received her Juris Doctor from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and concentrates her solo law practice in health law and legal representation, consultation and education for healthcare professionals, school of nursing faculty and healthcare delivery facilities. Brent has conducted many seminars on legal issues in nursing and healthcare delivery across the country and has published extensively in the area of law and nursing practice. She brings more than 30 years of experience to her role of legal information columnist. Her posts are designed for educational purposes only and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice. Individuals who need advice on a specific incident or work situation should contact a nurse attorney or attorney in their state. Visit The American Association of Nurse Attorneys website to search its attorney referral database by state.

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