Wells Fargo Bank – Banker/Used Car Salesman

I first worked for Wells Fargo Bank when I left Reno in the 90’s.  I chose Las Vegas, as I wanted to be both closer to New Mexico and as far away from the women of Reno as I could.  I landed in an in-store branch at the oldest Lucky’s in Las Vegas.  It was at the corner of Nellis and Bonanza.  A strip mall had grown around it, along with a Taco Bell, a 7-Eleven.  The surrounding neighborhood consisted of cars on blocks, people who spoke more Spanish than English, and whose most prosperous business was a place that cashed checks and offered payday loans seven days a week.

And Wells Fargo had decided this was a great place to push credit cards and home loans.  Good luck.

I didn’t last long in Las Vegas, not only because the Wells Fargo gig was a joke, but there’s a life thing about me that I always seem to return to something, give it a second shot so I don’t cement the memory as a failure.  So, it made sense that I return to Reno, that I give banking a shot, (This time with Norwest–didn’t want nothing to do with Wells), that I should be married, have a mortgage and a stepson.  Yeah, I made it as hard on myself as I could.

Then, my wife’s cancer returned.  And what started out as an adventure in love, became a quest of healing.

Then, Norwest was bought out by Wells … didn’t see that one coming.

I worked with some very nice people, the other banker in our northwest office was Janie, who I always thought of as perfectly suited as a TV mom from the 50’s.  She’d worked for the school district part-time, wanted to enter the business world for all the right reasons:  challenge herself, plan for retirement, etc.  Janie didn’t smoke, spoke in plain terms, and couldn’t tell a lie if you put a gun to her head.  I wasn’t so noble, but I liked Jane who would catch me outside when I had a smoke break.

“I don’t know this sales thing, Tonster,” she’d say.

“It’s a grind,” I told her.  “The numbers they’ve set up aren’t realistic.  At least you’ve got a bunch of friends from your years at the school.  Me, I gotta find a niche … or something.”

“How’s Patty doing?”

My wife had good days, bad days.  At this time we traveled to San Francisco once a month to have stents placed in her bile duct, as the cancerous tumor behind her liver was squeezing that important duct.  “She’s looking good.  When she’s got her color, you’d never even know she was sick.”

“Good.  I don’t know how you do it.”

Well, I did.  And it was best I didn’t talk about it.  I blew smoke as Janie went on.

“Hey,” she said, “I had a couple of old folks in today . . . had to fix their account.”

“Fix how?”

“They had overdraft on there that they didn’t authorize.”

“I’ve had some of the same.  I’ve become a customer service dude more than anything else.”

Janie shook her head.  Her brow furrowed.  “We can’t spend our time on that stuff with the sales goals staring us in the face.”

I threw my butt down and stomped on it.  “It’ll pass.  How much of that can there be?”


The Bank With The Horses

I didn’t want to work for Wells Fargo; I’d actually started out working at Norwest Bank.  But Wells Fargo bought them out.  So . . . here I was.  Personal banker.

More like Rent-A-Car with a decimal point.

Life was very, very different than from when I’d first arrived in Reno.  I was married.  I was responsible for my wife’s young boy, and I had a mortgage.  The stakes were definitely a lot higher than when I rolled into town with plans to head on to New Mexico.  Still, I had no illusions.  While my, Shirley Echols, formerly of Norwest Bank, now Wells Fargo, was a petite woman, (she reminded you of a life-size Shirley Temple doll), had a dis-arming look, she was a sales shark.  And it isn’t fair; folks want to retire with a company.  They’ve put in their time.  The corporate bosses know this, start putting out sales projections, objectives that aren’t reasonable.  Maybe Shirley was an honest person in the field of banking at one time.  I’d discover stuff that, well, even now it seems unbelievable.  And Reno seniors were the biggest victims.  The names I’ll write of now are real, save for Janie, who discovered some of the most important material in this story.

I will pick up this post later today.  In the meantime, get ready for one heck of a true story.

A Brave New Year

I hadn’t posted since November, not for a lack of stories or words.  I was pretty darn busy processing Senior Health during AEP.  Many folks used the information from the blog to learn more about Medicare, and it was cool to hear positive feedback.

Another thing that relates to the long wait.  My wife and I had planned to visit Singapore in December.  Her parents are approaching eighty, and we wanted to touch base with them during the holiday season because it’s such a special time.

It’s not my first visit to Singapore, but it was my first visit that included numerous hospital visits.  As is my nature, I asked questions about what Singapore is going through at this point in time.  Turns out that they will soon experience some of what the states are going through — an uptick on population imbalance that will include many more older folks than younger ones.

So, I viewed the facilities with a perspective that questioned where we will be at at some point in the future.

Is it scary?  Well, trust me on one thing; it certainly is different.  Is the U.S. care system headed in the direction I viewed in Singapore?  Depends.  It all comes down to one thing, what it always comes down to:  money.

The question is:  is the money going to benefit the client, the system, or enriching private enterprise?

So … as has been the case for much of my life, I walk at night.  Singapore is an old, correction, an ancient city.  Rats as big as cats.  Mass transit, new super-structures, malls and prosperity that put ours to shame.  The political party in charge is the PNP party, (jokingly referred to as the pay and pay party).  I’ll be going home in a couple of days, I tell myself.  Have to get working on the blog again.  And I know I’ve been screwing around, taking too much time to write character, set a baseline for why a person would choose caregiving as a profession.  Then, use that as a platform to dramatize the disillusionment that follows when rampant corruption is experienced.

How much should I play safe?  What are the repercussions of telling the truth? I wondered.

So, I pondered, thought of compromise, playing safe.

In the end I decided to write.

I will begin my posts for 2013 with stories from my time as a Wells Fargo personal banker.  I will give the names of people I worked with, managers as well as hourly folk.  These stories are absolutely true, outrageous and may be so revealing that I will definitely piss some people off.

Bring it on.

If We Have No Soul

If we have no soul, something aches in us anyway, heaves our breath, pumps our blood.

Sun thrown across treetops, do you see New Mexico?

Windstorms crack across it, days break against it.

I hurt for dry dirt.  Big sky, bell in a tower.

Sage across the eye.  Burnt land, old sand carcass,

your rosebuds are hardening, your leaves turning.

My heart, burning.

I didn’t write those words; I wish I had.  I found them in a book at Barnes and Noble a few months after settling in Reno, Nevada.  I don’t remember the book’s title, but I knew it dealt with the southwest from the book’s cover:  desert rose, muted blues and soft pink, the tones of sunset upon sand.

The words settled in my bones like a soft reminder that I was moving through a transient town.  Wrangling through the place like a hired gun, hankering to take a break, do minimal damage, have a little fun.  I thought I was catching my breath.  In reality, I was enduring a test of my own creation.  I took out my notebook, copied the poem down as a reminder to myself why I was here, that even though life here was merely an existence it was only a season.  I’d move on to better places.

I made some friends, mostly through work.  I’d found as an agent at Alamo Rent-a-car, a funky collection of pot-smokiin kids, sex-charged blondes and chain-smoking wise-acres.

I related to all of ’em.

I didn’t understand KeIly.  Whatever we’d had was lost, or floundering, or perhaps never was.  I spent less time at home, more time taking day trips.  My friend, Dell, from Alamo, had become a pal.  He’d been in Alcoholic’s Anonymous for ten years, was well read, and had an opinion on everything — and most of the time it was funny.  One day I told him, “I can’t wait to get out of here.”

“You mean Alamo?” he asked.

“No, Reno.  Kelly is always pissed, and the women here are weird.”

Dell lit up a Marlboro.  “Whaddaya expect?  Reno’s close to three prisons and is usually the first pit-stop for those guys.”

“I’ve heard that,” I told him.  “Just my luck I’d land in the bent-rod capitol of the world.”

“Tony,” he said, “we got a saying in A.A.  Wherever you go, there you are.”

Grinning, he tossed me a cigarette.  “I hate it when you’re right,” I shot back.

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Back to the book:  Don’t Grow Old in Reno

I’m sitting in a retail outlet this AEP season, and I hope the straight talk on Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans has helped some folks.  I can speak more freely as a writer, rather than as an insurance broker.

It’s good to get back to the story.  I want to share with you a letter I wrote recently to a big-shot in the statistics world of the federal government.  They are assembling raw data for the future of adult day care.  The government knows that the boomer generation will impact the system.  It certainly will, and in ways that are going to be uncomfortable.  That is the theme of my book.  I’m sharing this letter with you as I catch my breath and move forward.

Thank you for the questionnaire on the adult day services we have provided.  I want to take a moment to explain the situation here in Northern Nevada. 

Our center, Angel Adult Day, was open for seven years.  We closed it the first part of 2012, and hoped to re-open it.  During the past two years, I have served on a state council for adult day care, and I helped write a brochure that will be used state-wide to help Nevada residents understand what the service offers. 

During the time our center was open, it became increasingly clear that the network here in Reno for elder care services has some corruption issues.  During our time, a number of adult day facilities opened and closed within a year’s time. 

As I understand the situation, the state of Nevada’s Division of Aging prefers only one center in Reno.  I have written the Governor as well as the head of that department for an explanation.  Both state and federal funds are used to subsidize this facility with grants as they run the state website for caregiver information.  While on the state council for adult day care, I was approached by a new facility owner who had formed an alliance with one in the south with the goal of limiting the opening of new facilities. 

I’m only giving you a snippet here.  My requests for more information from the department heads and the governor have not proved fruitful.  I’m not surprised as the state of Nevada has no real teeth in its “sunshine” laws.  It’s my hope that I can get your interest in starting an investigation.  

In my opinion, the future of Adult Day Care in Nevada is one where taxpayer funds will enrich private contractors.  Elders will be warehoused; the potential for abuse will be heightened.  Please do what you can to investigate.

I don’t know what to expect from this letter, but I will report back to you when they respond.  In the next post, I will move forward in time, explain some of what happened during the transition, and we’ll pick up with my job at Wells Fargo Bank.


A Medicare Journey – Finale

For those of you who have been following the book, this brief respite has provided a real-life account of one person’s Medicare Advantage situation.  I’ll be returning to the roots of helping seniors, and my story from nearly twenty years ago.  But first, back to Edith.  (84 years old, and on a Med Advantage plan in rural Nevada)

It was about a week later that I looked for Edith in Saint Mary’s, once part of the Catholic Healthcare network, and recently sold to a large corporation.

She wasn’t there.  I called her daughter, Barbara, immediately.  “You guys were discharged, already?”

“Yesterday,” she answered.

“How’s it going?”

Not all sunshine, lollipops, but Edith had improved.  An endoscopy specialist had taken on her case, and Edith had improved, enough to be released to skilled nursing.  Barbara was speaking slower than she had last time we’d talked.  “I’m feeling better about this,” she said.

“Yeah, me too.  I checked into that doctor of hers . . . from the last hospital.”

Barbara listened as I went into detail.  After getting back to Reno, I found a client that was in the medical field for the rural town Edith lived in.  It turned out that, yes, the surgeon did have a reputation for taking on every client, but also that doctors in Reno were reluctant to treat people who’d moved on.  Seems there was a history of issues.

“Where’s that doctor headed to?” asked Barbara.

“Carson City.  And they don’t like med-advantage out there.”

“Can we do something else for my mother?” she asked.

“Well, she’s got a get-out-of-jail free card.  Her plan left the area, so we’re going to get her on a supplement as soon as we can.”

“Thanks, Tony.”

We hung up with an agreement to talk later.  I got in my car, kicking myself.  No, not because things were going to work out for Edith by luck of the draw, but for the fact that I’d never asked if they pulled the emergency room trick.

A Medicare Journey – Part 2

Please see my previous post.  Also, if you’re interested in straight talk about Medicare and Medicare Advantage in Reno, and rural Nevada, check out the posts before these.

Back to Edith.

The doctor who showed up in the room seemed like a good guy.  He stood in the center of the room, guesturing with large, pale hands.  His voice resonated with concern and authority.  “I’m sure your mother is going to be fine,” he told Barbara.  “It’s bad timing this all happened as we transition to a different surgical program.”

He launched into a re-cap of the blood work results, the levels that looked good and those of concern.

As a non-family member, and simply as in insurance agent who wanted the best for Edith, I was happy to listen in.  But all the while, I wasn’t liking this situation.  Here in the rurals, the pickin’s are slim for the best health care choices.  People want to save money; the Med-Advantage plan choices are few.  Most of the time, we can make it work, but here was a fine senior lady facing potential incompetence, and more.

After the doctor had left, Edith’s daughter looked at me.  “What do you think?”

“I’m thinking that they scewed up and want her discharged so if something happens it’s not on their watch.”

“Exactly,” concurred Barbara’s husband, Jack.

It was easy to see that he was a take-charge kind of guy.  Barbara, while a bit more laid back, was motivated because it was her mother on the line here.

“Here’s what we’re gonna do,” said Jack.  “We’ll let ’em discharge her, take her to Reno.  Then we’ll take her to the emergency room.  They can’t turn her down.”

Barbara looked at me.  “I can’t tell you guys what to do,” I said, “but I’m not comfortable with taking a chance on the drive.  It’s three hours if you go easy.”

“What should we do?”

“The best thing is for us to do an appeal.  We’ll make a pitch to the insurance company, and that’ll buy us a few days.”

“A few days would be fine,” said Barbara.

“Good.  That’s the plan.”  I looked at Edith, smiling, sitting up in bed.  A very aware woman of eighty-four, how did it feel to be spoken of in the third person?  “Also,” I said, “I’m going to check with some people I know on Edith’s doctor.  Is that okay with you?”

It was.  I had a two-hour-plus drive back to Reno. I move a little faster, especially when it’s important and I’ve got plenty to think about.

Street Stories – A Medicare Journey

Still on a break from the memoir and the story of that road to helping seniors.  For an overview of Medicare and Medicare Advantage, please check out the two previous posts.  This particular post will be on-going as I work to condense this story.

A month or so ago, I was in a mining community a few hours away from Reno.  My life journey has me traveling into the rural part of northern Nevada.  I do counseling for hospices and occasionally speak at senior centers.  Some of the things I talk about are senior health as well as the issues that come with aging.

In this town, an insurance client of mine, I’ll call her Edith,was in the hospital.  She’d been there for a while.  Her daughter called me.  “It’s unbelievable,” she said.  “Mom went into have her gall bladder removed, and they cut her bile duct.”

“I’ll see you when I hit town,” I told her.

I was scheduled the following week for a meeting at that town’s hospital where I volunteer for their grief recovery group.  The following week I made time to arrive four hours early.  “Hey, Edith,” I greeted her when I entered the room.

“I remember you,” she said.  I smiled, then re-introduced myself to Edith’s daughter, Barbara.  Barbara’s husband was there as well.  Edith’s husband had passed away at the beginning of 2012 in Reno.

“So, what’s going on?” I asked Barbara.

The short and sweet wasn’t good.  Edith had gone in a month ago for her gall bladder.  The resident surgeon had warned there might be issues, and sure enough, something happened.  Edith’s bile duct had been severed.  Now she had a drain attached leading to her bile duct.  The risk for infection was high.  While things were stable for the moment, Barbara was certain that the hospital wanted to discharge her mother prematurely.  The surgeon had screwed up on their premises, and she was convinced that they had a hot potato here.  Best to have a problem outside of the hospital’s influence.

I looked at Edith.  She was eighty-four and still a beauty.  She’d lived in Reno with her husband for nearly fifty years.  A WWII vet, he’d had a business that took him all over the state.  Flew his own plane.  I wished he and Edith hadn’t lived so far away; I enjoy their kind of people.

Now, as we waited for Edith’s doctor of the moment to appear (they have a rotating staff out here), I considered some options.  And, as is usual in my life experience, past is prologue.

From my time with Kelly, I had experience doctors, a little differently than most people.  In addition to my childhood illness, I’d been in their homes, talked war stories with ’em:  of planes, traveling in Europe, about women, Corvettes, money.  This was the world of Kelly.  Most doctors I’d met are healers, but they’re business people as well.  And they have big egos.

I made myself comfortable, not easy in a hospital room chair.  I’d meet Edith’s specialist and glean what I could.  All the while, my experience with that insurance outfit would be running through my head, but first, I’d see what kind of guy we were dealing with.

Medicare – The Brave New World (and how to make it work for you)

Please also see my previous post from October 7th regarding Medicare Advantage and some more Medicare basics.  I covered some things that we’re building on for this post.

Well, for the third year in a row, I’m in a large retail store in South Reno answering seniors’ questions regarding Medicare.  From year to year, many of these questions remain the same:  What is Medicare, why are there so many parts?, etc. . . .

As I’ve stated in my previous post, the taxpayer subsidy for Med-Advantage will be reduced and insurance companies will lose what many have viewed as a sweetheart deal.  So, other than be on traditional A & B Medicare, what should a person consider?

My honest opinion after doing this work for years, (and please remember that I have been a court appointed officer for seniors, served on a Nevada state senior council, run a Care Center), tells me that the best possible choice is to pair a supplement and a high value drug plan.

“Doctors are leaving Medicare,” people tell me.  Well, that is happening.  Mostly they’re leaving Medicare Advantage.  Insurance companies, especially those “zero premium” plans are going to do everything they can to become more efficient, cost-effective, and those policies probably won’t be very convenient for doctors and their billing department.

“So, why a supplement?”  The right plan that includes paying above what Medicare allows gives doctors the best chance to get paid the most for the work, and for the client (you) to receive the best possible care.

Here’s how that works.  Doctors who accept Medicare assignment are going to be paid a fixed amount for every procedure they perform.  Medicare “assignment” is a list of every possible procedure, (hip surgery, cataracts, etc. . . .) that vary on a county by county level.  The right supplement allows for doctors to bill 15% above Medicare assignment; this is paid by the insurance company.  Doctor and client both win in this.

“Wow, I want that one!  Who offers it?”  It gets a little confusing because plans are given letter designations, (A plan, G plan), and Medicare is letterized as well.  Most folks find that an “F” plan provides for this benefit.  All F plans provided by an insurance company are mandated to offer the same benefits as any other company.

One chooses a company for price and service.  The lower priced one is not always the best!

And we’ll end there, give you a rest and some time to absorb these last two posts before we move on.

Thanks for reading!

Medicare – The Here and Now of Advantage Plans and What’s Coming Up For Reno And Las Vegas

It’s a good time to break away from the book as what I’ve told about Kelly should reveal some of the “insiderness” that occurs in Reno, especially in the area of medicine.  It was a big revelation for me, and there are more to come.

But, that was then and this is now — 2012.  I am no longer in the first year of my Reno experience.  I’ve run an adult day center for seven years, done senior health for longer than  that . . .  and  other things regarding seniors that I’ll share with you.

I receive a lot of questions about Medicare.  People, it seems, get some good information, bad information, and the only commonality among all of it is that there is just too much of it.  So, I’m going to take a minute to boil it down.

Firstly, understand that Medicare is four parts:  A, B, C and D.  Part A is the hospitalization side of medicare, (inpatient).  Part B is outpatient, (doctor visits, emergency room, and some injectible drugs).  Part C is a platform, laws that allow for Medicare Advantage.  Here in Washoe County we hear about Senior Dimensions, Anthem, Humana, Senior Care plus, and a few others.  Part D is Drugs . . . (whew, a lot to cover there, so just know D is for prescriptions).

It’s campaign season, and guess what?  Money is a big concern.  Ya think?  Two wars . . . blah, blah, blah.  You hear about Seven Hundred Billion, BILLION, being removed from Medicare.  Not so, not like you’re hearing.

First, understand that when one has a Medicare Advantage plan, (Humana, Anthem, Senior Care Plus or Senior Dimensions), that the government is paying these companies to administer Medicare in a private manner.  Behind the scenes, these companies receive about $1000 per month by the government that was set aside for you as you paid into the program.  Well, back when Part C (the legal platform, remember?) was established, the concept was that companies would handle senior health more efficiently than the government did.  There was a math problem, however, and that’s what is coming into play now.

Medicare runs at about a 3% overhead.  Insurance companies have usually recieved payments 15% above what Medicare costs.  Know this:  They were allowed to provide benefits equal to or above original Medicare.  That amount of money, profit, whatever you want to call it, is now seen by the government as something they can’t sustain to pay out.  Companies are now supposed to run Medicare Advantage at close to the same costs as Medicare itself.

The 716 Billion dollars you have heard about is this 15% extra paid to insurance companies.

So, guess what?

This year, things changed.  Benefits went down, cost sharing for the consumer went up.

Is Medicare Advantage still a good deal?

In a big way, it certainly is.  Original Medicare has no maximum out of pocket limit.  An Advantage Plan allows for a maxiimum annual out of pocket limit.  Most plans also include a drug plan.

Washoe County has had many “zero premium” plans in the past, and we still do out here.  They are still a deal.

But, are they the best thing for you as a consumer?

We’ll continue this in a series of posts, then return to learning more of the elder care corruption I’ve encountered while living in Washoe County for twenty years.

Until then . . .