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Seniors mediation program puts solutions ‘on table’

A program which gives older people and their carers the opportunity to ‘be heard’ has been launched by Victorian not for profit aged care provider, Benetas, in partnership with Family Mediation Counselling (FMC) Victoria.

<p>From left to right: Kim O'Neill, FMC chief executive; Jenny Blakey, manager of Seniors Rights Victoria; and Sandra Hills, Benetas chief executive at the launch of the Seniors Mediation Program.</p>

From left to right: Kim O'Neill, FMC chief executive; Jenny Blakey, manager of Seniors Rights Victoria; and Sandra Hills, Benetas chief executive at the launch of the Seniors Mediation Program.

In the lead up to National Elder Abuse Day, Benetas and FMC celebrated the launch of its Seniors Mediation Program trial, at the Melbourne Town Hall yesterday.

The program, which puts the older person at the centre of discussions about their care, helps families to resolve conflict, make important decisions, set goals and plan for the future through a non-adversarial approach.

Benetas clients and their families have been participating in a trial of the program over the past six months, with significant outcomes already reportedly achieved.

Kim O’Neill, FMC chief executive, tells DPS News a “real need” to help older people and their families resolve conflicts was apparent after a growing number of referrals to FMC on the issue.

“We were finding that we were turning people away who required seniors mediation. There is an evident gap in services that can resolve conflict or assist in decision making for older people,” she says. 

Ms O'Neill, who previously oversaw aged care services at Baptcare and Wesley Mission, describes the Seniors Mediation Program as a “non-adversarial” approach to mediation for older people that gives older people the opportunity to express their wishes about their care and preserve relationships for enhanced wellbeing.

“The program is really about putting unspoken issues onto the table and finding an outcome,” she says.

As the Consumer Directed Care (CDC) model approach is introduced from next month, Ms O'Neill claims programs like the Seniors Mediation Program will become imperative as it aims to put the older person at the centre of discussions about their care.

According to Ms O'Neill, the Benetas trial reveals that when older people participate, and are willing to resolve their own issues, they are more likely to stick to an agreement made as a result of the mediation session.

Some of the conflicts that may require mediation include: disputes about living situations; financial decisions; health concerns, such as end of life care; and settling Wills and estates.

While it is still “early days” in the trial', Ms O'Neill describes the results as promising, mentioning the case of a 72 year old non-English speaking man living in one of Benetas' facilities who was able to resolve his financial conflicts and issues surrounding his Power of Attorney via the Seniors Mediation Program.

Seniors mediation is reportedly “new and developing” in Australia, according to Ms O'Neill, who claims the concept originally formed in Canada.

In Australia, it is reportedly not mandatory for people to be accredited and certified to become a mediator.

Ms O'Neill claims the concept of seniors mediation is “non-existent”, with reportedly no accredited elder mediators in the country.

“In fact, there are only about 32 people certified in the world who are senior mediators. FMC currently has staff going through the accreditation process,” she says.

Passionate about the opportunity for older people to have access to accredited senior mediators, Ms O'Neill is a strong advocate to see legislation enacted to give older people a “voice” through a “neutral and independent” body.

Sandra Hills, Benetas chief executive, says the Seniors Mediation Program is part of the organisation’s commitment to “person centred” care.

“We want to make sure that older people have their voices heard and their needs met when it comes to how they live their life as they age,” Ms Hills says.

“We’re proud to work with FMC to deliver a program that puts the needs of older people first and foremost, and that ensures their experience of ageing is the best it can be.”

The Benetas Seniors Mediation Program trial will conclude at the end of the year, with a full report expected at a later date.

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