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Yesterday morning, I thought about the options available when solving problems related to eldercare. The more I thought about my reasons for becoming a mediator, the more I thought that the ideas converge. As I see it, there are three doors to resolving a problem.

"Door No. 1" is people solving problems related to seniors and health care with the skills that life has taught them. Some people bully/threaten their way into a solution. Some people take on a martyr status and some people give up in frustration. Some people can sustain anger and vengeance for years in an effort to "make" another person or agency comply with a correction. Some people can effectively negotiate the decline or loss of a parent or spouse with grace and acceptance. I applaud those people who are able to figure out solutions to problems on their own without sacrificing their financial future or their health status.

"Door No. 2" is what I call seeking assistance from an attorney or a regulatory agency to solve the problem. I no longer work at the Certification Bureau in the Quality Assurance Division of the Montana Department of Health and Human Services; however, during the 25 years I worked in health care regulation, people submitted over 2,000 formal complaints to me about health care facilities. When people called, I offered the options available within the regulatory parameters. In most cases the regulatory agency conducted an investigation and, as appropriate, cited deficiencies when violations of state or federal regulations were verified. In some cases the complainant was happy, and in some cases the outcome did not meet the expectations of the complainant. "Door No. 2" is a hands-off approach which allows another person and/or entity to verify and solve the problem for you. If this solution appeals to you, the Yellow Pages provide many legal options. If your concern is with a Montana health care facility, contact the Montana Licensure and/or Certification Bureau at 406-444-2099 for assistance.

About five years ago, I found mediation and it is "door No. 3." Mediation facilitates problem-solving between people who have reached an impasse. With the assistance of a mediator, preferably a certified mediator with either eldercare or healthcare experience, people are able to create unique solutions to problems. These unique solutions are not solutions typically implemented by judges. With mediation, solutions can be achieved without waiting weeks, months or years, and mediator fees are usually less than attorney fees.

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Mediation is a fabulous opportunity where two parties (or more) are able and willing to make an informed choice. Mediation is an opportunity to solve problems and to identify what is most important to them. Mediation is not bound by state or federal healthcare regulations. It is not bound by civil monetary penalty structures. Mediation in the context of I-Mediate healthcare is not precedent setting. The solution is not arrived at during a trial of public opinion. When a mediation agreement is achieved, both parties are satisfied with the outcome.

The Montana Mediation Association member directory can help you find a mediator to open your "door No. 3" at mtmediation.org or by calling 406-241-2422.

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LaDawn Whiteside will be teaching a class called Healthcare & Eldercare in Missoula on July 7 at the Community Dispute Resolution Center. Register for this class at cdrdmissoula.org or call Whiteside at 406-437-2090.

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