Bamboozled: It shouldn’t have been so hard

Until recently, Victorio and Lucia were quick to help those in need.

The Bloomingdale couple, parents to three, grandparents to seven and great-grandparents to three more, moved in with their son Vincent’s family about 10 years ago to help with child care.

“My parents took pride in being able to help their children and their families financially, and they worked past retirement age to do so,” said Vic Tolentino, another of the couple’s sons.

But in recent years, the couple’s health has been failing.

Victorio Tolentino, 77, has end-stage renal disease and has received dialysis treatments since February. His wife Lucia, 70, also suffers from a chronic illness.

“The cost of medications and treatments has caused my parents to deplete their savings,” Vic Tolentino said. “The costs of care associated with (my father’s) diagnosis are not fully covered by Medicare.”

The couple decided it was time to apply for Medicaid benefits.

As part of the application process, the Tolentinos had to submit bank statements for the past five years.

“The process was straightforward and free of charge at Capital One, Kearny Savings Bank, TD Bank and even MetLife,” Vic Tolentino said. “For the most part, the experience was pain-free, until we contacted Wells Fargo.”


Vic Tolentino said he first called Wells Fargo’s toll-free customer service line on or about Sept. 26.

He requested the needed statements for an account — originally a Wachovia account before the banks merged. The account was opened in the 1980s and closed in 2008.

He said the representative told Tolentino his parents would have to go to a branch to make the request.

“You can imagine the challenges involved in transporting two frail elderly people — getting dressed, assisting them to the car, walking them from the car to the bank, and then back,” he said. “They were determined and so they asked a family member to accompany them to the Wells Fargo branch in Bloomingdale.”

They went on Sept. 29. At the bank, Vic Tolentino said his parents met a representative who said they’d have to pay $5 for each statement, regardless of the reason for the request. In other words, no Medicaid waiver.

That added up to $300 — money the couple couldn’t spare. They went home empty-handed.

Vic Tolentino called his dad’s social worker from Woodland Park Dialysis Center in Woodland Park, to see if she had any ideas. The social worker eventually reached a supervisor at the bank — Beth — who said the couple should return to the bank and the fees would be waived.

Upon their arrival, the Tolentinos were told they had been given the wrong information, and if they wanted the statements, they have to pay $5 each.

A second time, the couple left without their statements.

Vic Tolentino said he then called the bank and spoke to Beth. There was a miscommunication, he said Beth told him, and she had only told the social worker she’d request a fee waiver from the branch manager.

So the Tolentinos waited for an answer.

No news a week later, so the social worker called again.

This time, the social worker spoke to Janet, who agreed to request a waiver from the “back office,” Tolentino said. The Passaic County Board of Social Services materials highlighting the needed documents were faxed to Janet, he said, but the waiver was denied.

“By this time, our appointment to submit my dad’s Medicaid application had arrived, so we attended without the necessary bank statements,” Vic Tolentino said.

He said he explained the dilemma to the social worker processing his dad’s Medicaid application.

“I was surprised to learn from her that our experience with Wells Fargo was not unique, and that Wells Fargo is routinely nonresponsive even to requests from the Department of Social Services,” he said. “As a result of the bank’s lack of response, other applications for medical benefits have been denied.”

The social worker agreed to limit the request to end-of-year statements for the last five years, and she asked for a Wells Fargo letter confirming the date the account was closed and the ending balance.

Again, the Tolentinos enlisted the help of the Woodland Park Dialysis social worker, who contacted Janet at the Wells Fargo branch on Oct. 5. Janet agreed to print the statements, waive the fees and write the needed letter.

Tolentino said he called Janet to confirm, but several messages were unreturned.

The Tolentinos went back to the bank on Oct. 7. They were given a packet with statements, but it was incomplete. The letter detailing the closure of the account was missing and so was an end-of-year statement from 2008.

“I still have not received a call back from Janet. My dad’s application has still not been processed,” Vic Tolentino said. “The 45-day period to submit the supplementary documents is quickly approaching. If these documents are not received, my parents’ application for medical benefits will be denied.”

“Each day that my dad’s application is not processed is a day that he is being denied access to much needed health services,” he said.

He asked Bamboozled to help.


We reached out to Wells Fargo to learn about its Medicaid fee waiver policy and to see if it could help the Tolentinos.

Within days, the social worker received a phone call from Peter Ameen, Wells Fargo’s Northwest Jersey Community Bank president. His office faxed over the needed documents and apologized for the confusion.

Vic Tolentino was grateful. Then hours before the Medicaid application meeting, the family realized the bank’s letter was incomplete. It did not list the account’s closing balance. Fortunately, a flurry of calls among Bamboozled, the Tolentinos and the bank resulted in an updated letter.

Deadline met.

Tolentino still wondered if Wells Fargo would change its policy and allow a fee waiver without the runaround.

“Of course, my primary purpose was to obtain the documents my parents needed, but big picture? My outreach is motivated by the desire to prevent other folks, especially those with limited resources, who have no advocates, from having to endure a similar experience,” he said.

Great question. We asked Wells if it’s considering a change.

There is no such fee waiver, spokesman Kevin Friedlander said, but branch managers are empowered to waive fees on a case-by-case basis.

“In this particular situation, the manager did decide to provide a discretionary fee waiver — however, unfortunately, this was not communicated in a timely manner to the Tolentino family,” he said.

Friedlander would not directly answer whether or not the bank would consider a policy change for such fees.

“It is unfortunate that a well-resourced organization like Wells Fargo practices a policy which charges senior citizens applying for financial assistance an exorbitant fee that other institutions have chosen to waive,” Vic Tolentino said. “I will also point out that in the limited circumstance that Wells Fargo has allowed my father a fee waiver, that the process to secure such a waiver was unfairly convoluted.”

“It saddens me to think that this is how Wells Fargo rewards customer loyalty,” he said.