by Kim W. Torres and Cher Myers
Eldercaring Coordination is a dispute resolution option developed specifically for high-conflict families that turn to the courts for resolutions related to the care and needs of an elder. The family dynamics can be disruptive, harmful or damaging to the elder and the elder's ability to receive care and services, or threatening to the elder's safety. The Eldercaring Coordinator (EC) serves as a court-appointed intermediary to work with the family, caregivers, guardians, attorneys, and other interested parties to facilitate the resolution of ongoing disputes. Eldercaring Coordination is intended to complement and not substitute for services such as legal representation, financial advice, therapy, medical services or mediation.
A Real Family's Dilemma: The Simmons family was at an impasse. One group of siblings wanted Mom to live in Georgia, while another contingent wanted Mom to stay in Florida, where she had been for the last nine months. After Dad had passed, Mom had left her group-living home in Georgia, which she had shared with her husband for the past five years, and moved to Florida with her daughter Angie for support and assistance. The Georgia location was the most convenient for the four siblings outside of Florida, and Angie did not get along well with her brothers and sisters. The siblings had not seen Mom in six months at Angie's house. Since her husband had died, Mom's abilities had declined and she had established relationships with local physicians and care providers.
Angie and her sister, Beth, were now each seeking to be appointed the Guardian of Mom. The appointment would determine where Mom was to live. Which locale and living arrangements were better for Mom Could Mom handle the transition Would the family members support Mom wherever she was living
During the Hearing to determine Guardianship, the wise Judge made a difficult decision: allow Mom to return to the Georgia living facility for thirty days, and see how it goes. Because the parties were in the middle of a court proceeding, the Judge required that they be sequestered and not speak to each other, or anyone else, about the proceedings or circumstances. The Eldercaring Coordinator was appointed to communicate with all of the parties, coordinate visitation, consult with the physicians if necessary, and monitor progress with the director of the living facility. A couple of problems and disagreements arose which were addressed and resulted in better communication between the physicians, an adjustment of medication, and smoother visitation with all of the children of Mom. Each child was able to immediately express concerns when there was a problem with Mom's care which was addressed and satisfied.
Interestingly, Mom made the transition back to Georgia fabulously. She remembered old friends and was active in the social community and events. All of the children were able to visit with Mom regularly with pleasant interactions. The court decided that Mom should stay in Georgia and appointed the Guardian accordingly.
How was the E.C. Able to Make a Difference for this Family?
A Brief Look Inside Another Family's Dilemma:
The elder has not been able to see two of her four children for over two years due to the conflicts between the siblings. She was close to the end of her life and wanted her children to be able to be present with one another and to get along. As a result of the intervention from the Eldercaring Coordinator, schedules were created which allowed for visitation with all the children together and the elder. This cohesive effort by the children allowed the elder to maintain dignity during the dying process and enjoy the company of her family without tension or animosity.
When Might Eldercaring be Effective?
Obstacles to Utilizing Eldercaring Coordination:
A: A coordinated effort to advise each Judicial Circuit and professionals within the Guardianship industry of the option of eldercaring coordination is taking place.
A: In our experience, the EC relieves the attorney from frequent and emotional communications with the family members, allowing the attorney to focus more easily on legal issues at hand.
A: When successful, the process can save thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars on unnecessary litigation.
Eldercaring Coordination enables families to resolve disputes in a manner that respects the safety and autonomy of their aging loved ones. The Eldercaring Coordination Initiative is committed to helping the court and community focus on reducing the level of conflict in families as concerns about care and safety for their aging loved ones arise.
Kim W. Torres is an Eldercaring Coordinator and Certified Mediator in the 18th Judicial Circuit of Florida and Chair-Elect of the ADR Section of the Florida Bar. For almost 20 years, her mediation practice at Torres Mediation has focused on disputes that relate to emotional concerns and involve individuals, including Guardianship, pre-suit Divorce, foreclosure, and Homeowner Assoc. disputes.
Cher Myers, L.C.S.W. is an Eldercaring Coordinator in the 5th Judicial Circuit and Qualified Clinical Supervisor in the State of Florida, who owns her private practice in Lake County, also providing equine-assisted psychotherapy, counseling, parenting coordination. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker she has worked with high conflict cases for over 25 years.
(Any excerpt from Elder Justice Initiative on Eldercaring Coordination material was approved.)
For more information check out the Eldercaring Initiative Page or contact the Elder Justice Initiative on Eldercaring Coordination Co-Chairs:
Linda Fieldstone, M.Ed. | LindaFieldstone@outlook.com
Sue Bronson, LCSW | SBronson@wi.rr.com
Judge Michelle Morley | MMorley@circuit5.org