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Archive for Sunday, April 11, 1999

SENSE FOR SENIORS

April 11, 1999

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My father is in a dreadful dispute with the retirement center where he and my mom live. Things have been unsatisfactory since the beginning.

Dad feels that the advertising was false, that the wording of the contract was vague and misleading, that several of the charges are unfair. He has met with the administrator many times, and nothing seems to come of it. Now he wants to hire a lawyer and sue the retirement complex.

I hate to see him get into some kind of complicated legal hassle and end up getting kicked out of what is a good place for my folks to live. Do you have other suggestions?

In the past few years there has been a great growth in "alternative dispute resolution." Arbitrators and mediators are two players in this expanding field. An arbitrator is a decision-maker -- a third party who will hear both sides and then decide what is best or right.

Mediation is something your family might want to consider. Mediators are trained and certified by their states to facilitate better communications between people with a conflict. The process is generally voluntary. Both parties must be willing to meet with a mediator present to discuss the issues. Unlike an arbitrator, a mediator does not make a decision, but rather assists the parties in reaching a solution themselves.

The goal in mediation is less to "win" than to reach a negotiated agreement that reflects the best interests of all parties. The solutions that emerge can be more creative and more suited to individual needs than might be possible through traditional channels.

Mediation has been used effectively to solve senior housing issues, nursing home disagreements, issues of guardianship, bioethical decisions and more.

Many cities and counties have community mediation programs that are nonprofit agencies with small staffs and a cadre of volunteer mediators. Courts also often have mediation programs or make referrals to other agencies. There are private mediators available as well, and the Better Business Bureau may offer mediation of some consumer disputes. Check your phone directory, state or local court, or local bar association.

Mediation offers the opportunity to meet across the table and use a process that can potentially result in a settlement that is as advantageous as possible for both parties. If mediation doesn't work, the parties can still go to court with the dispute.

-- If you have a question or comment for "Sense for Seniors," write to Betty Gibb, Kansas Senior Press Service, 11875 S. Sunset, Suite 200, Olathe 66061.

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