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Who Needs Eldercaring Coordination, Anyway?

Categories: Eldercaring Initiative, Elders,

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?

  • The EC served as a vessel for communication between the contentious family members, buffering the reactive comments, and modeling a calm and respective demeanor.
  • The EC was able to communicate with all of the interested parties, even those that were not part of the court proceeding, to gain knowledge of relevant information to assist in decision-making. Thus, the EC eliminated the need for each family member to be in contact with the care providers and facility staff.
  • The EC allowed each party to vent, and then provided the opportunity to redirect the party's emotions in a more constructive manner.
  • By communicating with the EC, it was not necessary for the parties to file motions with the court to get a response, or to be heard.
  • The EC's involvement was almost immediate, with much interaction within a very short period of time for a response. Problems that arose were timely addressed and resolved without the need for other family members to intervene.
  • The EC was able to objectively identify the problems and suggest alternate behaviors for the parties to follow. When appropriate, the EC could validate the concern being expressed.
  • The EC was able to provide the court with an objective report indicating that all parties had an opportunity to communicate, participate and that the objectives ordered by the court had been satisfied.
  • The court could make a decision that was in the best interest of the Elder, with confidence that all family members had an opportunity to be heard and their concerns addressed.
  • The EC was better able to explain the court process to the family, as well as the role of guardians and to address the expectations of the family when a parent is declining in his/her abilities. The EC could recommend outside services to assist the family in their support and understanding.
  • By intervening quickly and reasonably, as well as educating the family as to options and realities, the family members were able to decide, with some level of comfort, that court action was not needed. This saved the family, and the elder, much money in legal fees, both now and in the future.
  • The family members were able to focus their energy and resources on supporting the elder. It also reduced the escalating tension between family members to hopefully allow for better communication in the future, and reaffirm their common goal of doing what was best for the elder.

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.

  • The Eldercaring Coordination process also helped the children to let go of some past resentments and redirected their focus on their shared desire to do what was in the best interest of their Mother.
  • Communication and contact improved between two of the four siblings after the death of the elder. This, in turn, aided the two children in experiencing a more supportive and less painful grieving process after the loss of their Mother.

When Might Eldercaring be Effective?

  • When the problems arising among family members are based on emotion, not something that legal action can fix.
  • When parties seem to be receiving different information. Their opinions and decisions are not based on the same base of knowledge.
  • When the cost of addressing each family member's concerns is draining the resources of the elder.
  • When the behavior and statements of the family members is disruptive to the elder.
  • When immediate intervention would likely make a difference.
  • When family members question and object to the decisions and actions of the Guardian.
  • When there is concern for the care and safety of the elder.
  • When there is an imbalance of power between the parties; some with legal representation or superior access than others.
  • When disputes are frequent and not subject to objective determination of the problem or result.
  • When some party/ies are exerting possessive or controlling behaviors toward the elder.

Obstacles to Utilizing Eldercaring Coordination:

  • Lack of Awareness of program by attorneys, Guardians, courts and care providers.

A: A coordinated effort to advise each Judicial Circuit and professionals within the Guardianship industry of the option of eldercaring coordination is taking place.

  • Reluctance by attorneys to engage another professional in the process.

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.

  • Anticipated additional expense for the elder, or unaffordability for the participants.

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

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