Opinion Columns & Blogs

Mediators ease conflict, save cash

It’s one of life’s little ironies that as we’ve found more ways to stay in touch with each other — Blackberrys, tweeting and cell phones that can do pretty much everything but open a can of creamed corn (for now) — we’ve become less communicative with each other.

And, perhaps taking a page from television’s shouting heads punditocracy, when we do engage in a face-to-face conversation with someone with whom we may have a beef, we do so with unproductive incivility, which may or may not end up in costly civil litigation.

So, how would you like to deal with that neighbor whose tree sheds its leaves and branches on your yard and all he does is laugh about it? Is there a way to get your landlord to weatherproof your windows without getting bumped in rent or evicted? Students creating a living hell down the street? Roommate is a pig? Don’t know how to deal with elderly parents? Delinquent kid?

Now, if you find yourself in any of these or similar situations — where your quality of life is face-plant-ing as your internal anger works an ulcer in your gut — check out Creative Mediation, a free service whose sole purpose is to find solutions to conflicts (creativemediation.net or 549-0442).

Founded in 1991 to give county residents an alternative to court in resolving disputes, it saves time, money and improves safety in the community, says Jesse Sostrin, executive director of Creative Mediation.

The mission, he says, is to “help people have the difficult conversations that move them from conflict to resolution.” Those “difficult conversations” among families are fueled in at least one area by what’s called “The Aging Wave,” our rapidly growing elder population of boomers who are beginning to play the final nine of life. And nowhere is the Wave more prevalent than in our county, because — happily so — we live in a place that has all the amenities people want in which to live out their retirement years.

Consider these stats: If the state’s population doubles between 1990 and 2040 as is expected, the number of Californians age 85 and older is expected to increase sixfold during that time, from just under 300,000 to more than 1.7 million — and our county is outpacing other counties when it comes to growth of this segment.

According to the state Department of Aging, our county is undergoing a 100-149 percent increase in people aged 60 and over; it’s undergoing a 200-299 percent increase in elders 85 and over.

Now here’s where it gets dicey: As our population ages, our countywide health care support network is in decline, says Sostrin, and that creates real problems for elders and their families.

“At a personal level there are risks of isolation, lack of social connection and purpose, decreased quality of life and increased possibility of deterioration, illness and death,” says Sostrin.

“Older persons who reside alone are at risk for substance abuse, elder abuse, financial scams, fraud, depression and lowered self-esteem,” he adds. “Issues of medical care, housing, finances and end-of-life legal matters can stress and strain family relationships to the point of breakdown. Many parents and their adult children are simply unable to initiate these painful conversations.”

And that’s where Creative Mediation can be a key player. Its trained Elder Mediators offer a respectful third-party environment that allows solutions to be found and put into use. When that happens, Sostrin said, issues that have been swept under the carpet for years — distorted family history, sibling favoritism, financial issues — can emerge for discussion in a nonthreatening environment.

As it stands, Creative Mediation recently received a $10,000 grant from the JAMS Foundation in Santa Barbara that provides training and program development for senior mediation.

On the other end of the age spectrum, the organization offers a program called Juvenile Dependency Mediation that deals with one of the most delicate and painful areas of the legal system: abuse, neglect and delinquency issues facing kids and families. Such issues not only rip families apart, they cost you and me money as they cycle and recycle through the court hearing process.

Last year, according to Sostrin, Creative Mediation handled 54 juvenile cases, 50 of which resulted in agreements. Savings to the court and taxpayers? $329,400. Not bad.

A free service that forges meaningful and lasting resolutions to immediate and long-festering problems, as well as saving John Q. Public financial hits to his wallet, is actually more than not bad; it borders on the miraculous.

Reach Bill Morem at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or 781-7852.