End of Life Wishes and Estate Disputes

Does any of this sound familiar? Your siblings insist that they don’t want strangers taking care of Mom, yet they aren’t willing to visit, let alone help out.  You can’t help thinking that they don’t want Mom to have outside care, because outside care is expensive, and will quickly eat up their expected inheritance. They don’t offer to take Dad to doctors’ appointments. They don’t believe that you are the target of verbal, or even physical, abuse from your Alzheimer’s afflicted parent. They accuse you of forcing Mom or Dad to sign a “do not resuscitate” order. You and your siblings are arguing about whether to stop treatment and give Mom or Dad pain-relief medication only. The time to gather together with a mediator (a trained, neutral third party) is earlier rather than later.  Giving each family member a chance to state their concerns and perspective can reveal good intentions and good ideas.  This works best when the issues first arise, but even long-term disagreements can often be resolved through mediation.  Mediation can take into account all the issues involved, help create solutions and maintain or repair family relations.  Mediation works powerfully to create solutions while being gentle on the people involved. Common sources of trouble: Disagreement about treatment options Unequal distribution of the burdens of care-giving Disputes over the benefits and costs of outside caregivers Surprise bequests to unexpected recipients Unequal distributions to heirs Pre-death loans or gifts not accounted for in will (so one heir benefits more than the others) Claims of undue influence by a late-in-life caretaker or much-younger second spouse Claims that a disinheritance was...

Conflict Resolution in the Healthcare Workplace

Healthcare organizations have been slow to explore the use of mediation to manage conflict. Yet many areas in the healthcare business would benefit from this approach to conflict resolution.  Workplace disputes can be enormously expensive. Using a neutral facilitator (a mediator) who helps the people involved to discuss the situation and develop thoughtful, self-crafted solutions saves time and money. The goal of healthcare is to help patients leave the treatment facility in better health than when they arrived. However, preventable medical errors cause thousands of deaths annually.  For example, about 18 percent of patients in hospitals are injured during the course of their care and many of those injuries are life-threatening, or even fatal (New England Journal of Medicine, 2010). Further, medication error is one of the top ten causes for death among children (Wrong Diagnosis, 2009).  Infections contracted at  healthcare facilities are another risk that can be prevented or reduced. A key factor in improving the quality of patient care is collaboration or teamwork – professional healthcare staff’s communicating and interacting to guide patient care.  When minutes can matter, it is important to arrive at a good decision quickly.  Workplace conflict can arise out of differences of opinions, educational degrees that separate team members (“nurses” or “doctors”), and professional status or social power. In addition, many healthcare professionals are stressed by the need to treat even the most fragile patients within the insurance companies’ allotted time frames. When team members do not understand and respect each other’s roles and contributions, it can obstruct collaboration.  Mediators can help clashing team members separate facts from assumptions.  They can help the...

Thoughts about My Volunteer Experience at JCMS

Having trouble talking with family members, co-workers, neighbors, HOA reps or even your friends at church doesn’t mean you need to hold a grudge or store up all that resentment.  The growing number of professional mediators in Colorado offers you a valuable option.  Mediators can work with both parties to help sort out the issues that are driving the problems.  One important thing that helps people move toward resolution is simply being given the opportunity to express how they feel about a situation.  Just because people feel differently or see a situation differently does not make one right and the other one wrong.  A good mediator allows both parties to express their viewpoints and to find common ground.  Not all mediations end with the parties’ singing Kumbaya together, but frequently people gain hope and a sense of satisfaction. I’ve been volunteering my time with the Jefferson County Small Claims court for 2 ½ years.  I’ve seen many more successes than failures.  When a person starts talking and listening to the other party, they often experience a certain “aha” moment, and realize that the other person might be seeing the same situation differently.  They can then negotiate, and sometimes both parties end up feeling great about the outcome.  Other times they come to an agreement that may not be exactly what they wanted, but it’s better than ending up with nothing.  I’ve seen both parties willing to compromise because they simply want to put the experience behind them. The rewarding experiences for me are those moments of simply watching people work through their differences together.  It’s not always easy or...