Thinking about how to manage families that are at war.

I first read about the lawsuit against Silverado last week in an article titled Silverado Visitation Dispute Prompts Social Media Policy Talk.  This story poses some interesting social media issues, and yet, I was fascinated by the question of how a senior living community responds when stuck in the middle of warring family members?

Two Impressions

Over the long weekend I spent a fair amount of time reading various online articles and court filings about this story and came away with a couple of impressions.

  1. There are two groups of family members who are seriously at war with each other, but it is impossible to tell if one is righteous and the other is not, or something else.
  2. The senior living provider (Silverado Senior Living) is in an impossible position.

I sent prominent senior living attorney Joel Goldman an email asking if he would be willing to chat with me about how senior communities can best protect themselves and the residents when families are at war.  We talked yesterday and this is what he had to say:


Disclaimer One: While this discussion was prompted by the Silverado Sugarland lawsuit, what follows are general guidelines. Disclaimer Two:  In the area of access to residents, state law has much variance.  This means if you get stuck in the middle you need to make sure you have a good understanding of the codes for your state.

What to Do

These disputes tend to be focused in three flashpoints areas:

  1. How assets are being managed, which only indirectly involves the senior living community
  2. Care decisions/end of life protocols
  3. Visitation, which is the arena where it is easiest to fight and is most likely to trap the senior living community in the middle

Joel had these suggestions:

  1. Get family members together –  Remind them that they are all working to accomplish the same thing, which is great care for their loved one.
  2. Use your Ombudsman –  While many times senior communities don’t have a great relationship with their Ombudsman, this is an ideal place to use them. They are charged with only caring about the best interests of the resident and will be seen by the warring family members as being a neutral and authoritative figure.
  3. Work for a compromise –  It is likely the best you can do is find a compromise that allows all family members and friends to visit at separate times that do not overlap.
  4. Free access to visitors and resident safety are both legally required and can be in conflict – If these principals are in conflict, resident safety has to come first. That could mean banning access; but banning access is an extreme last effort action and depending on state law, it may take a court order to ban any visitor. Every effort should be made to avoid doing this, but ultimately it is easier to defend legally than allowing access to a resident by someone who might abuse the resident.
  5. Push the problem up the chain –  This is where regional and corporate leadership earns their keep.  They will have access to additional resources and may well engage internal or external legal help. It becomes extremely important that the organization speak with a single voice. As a practical matter it protects the local executive director/administrator.

Have you faced this problem? How did you handle it? Part Two tomorrow will take a look at why you need to be so careful about taking sides and the special considerations for residents with dementia. Steve Moran

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