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BEYOND LOCAL: Terminally ill woman says life in danger after bank cut her off

Clara Robinson of Sault Ste. Marie says Scotiabank terminated its relationship with her after she disputed a transaction, and no other bank she has contacted will take her on as a new client
Clara Robinson has been living with Elephantiasis Lymphedema for more than 20 years. She says a recent banking mishap has caused her to be fired from the bank she has used for more than 20 years and has endangered her ability to pay the attendants who are keeping her alive.

A terminally ill Sault Ste. Marie woman is appealing for help after her bank dropped her as a client after a dispute about a lost payment. She says without a bank, she will be unable to pay for the constant care that is keeping her alive.

For more than 20 years, Clara Robinson has been living with Elephantiasis Lymphedema, a rare disease caused by blockage of the lymph vessels. The disease has caused extreme swelling to Robinson’s legs and other parts of her body, along with causing a long list of other complications.

“My legs go tough like an elephant’s skin, it’s tough and it leaks and grows bigger and bigger,” said Robinson. 

She is now in an advanced stage of the disease and totally bedridden due to the swelling and her body is contorted unnaturally, with her chest turned one way and her abdomen pointed in the opposite direction.

The most immediate danger for Robinson is the constant possibility of an infection.

Twice a month, Robinson receives money from the government to pay for her care. It is deposited in the bank and allows her to pay the attendants who keep her alive. She said her health care is run similar to a small business.

“I take care of my own health care, which is funded by the government,” said Robinson. “It’s allowing me to live independently so I can die with dignity. It allows me to take care of myself.”

After her local Scotiabank branch fired her as a client, and other banks have been unable or unwilling to accommodate her disability, Robinson said she is in real danger of dying if she can’t pay her attendants.

“An infection could take me in minutes, I can go septic. I went septic last month and almost died. That’s why it’s imperative that I get my care,” she said. “I was pretty once. Now I have no teeth, I am losing my hair. I’m deformed to the point I can’t even sit up and I get treated like I’m nothing."

SooToday reached out to Scotiabank for comment for this story and received the following response from Katie Raskina, the company's manager of media relations:

"Scotiabank cannot comment on individual customer matters for privacy reasons," said Raskina in an email.

Robinson said all the money deposited into her Scotiabank account goes toward the wages of the people who take care of her, as well as payments to the government’s Receiver General for their taxes.

“That’s all I do is write cheques, I don’t touch the money, I can’t even go into my account,” she said.

Robinson has a bookkeeper and routinely sends one of her attendants to do the banking in person. Recently, there was a mishap when the cheque from the government didn’t clear as soon as expected over the Easter holiday, resulting in a bounced cheque to the Receiver General.

“When they went to pay the Receiver General I didn’t have that money in there so they had a computer glitch and instead of bouncing the cheque out of my account they deposited through [my attendant] and bounced her account. They can’t do that,” said Robinson. “I immediately called the bank and he said it was a computer glitch. I said clear it out of her account and I will pay her account and clear it up.”

Robinson said the bank told her they put the $2,000-plus back into her account, but she can’t make heads or tails of the situation.

“This is not adding up. I am not a computer whiz or a money person but I said this is not adding up,” said Robinson. “They took it out of here and bounced five of my cheques, took money for bouncing and then they said they put the money back — oh my God, they screwed my account so bad I didn’t know what to do.”

When the next payroll cheques were due to come out two weeks later, Robinson said she was in for another surprise when she alleges the bank took that $2,000-plus payment out of the account without telling her.

Robinson was dumbfounded as the situation was made even worse and she no longer had enough money in the account to cover all of her payroll.

“Look at my account — I have never had a problem. Never,” she said. “It’s a misunderstanding, obviously. But they won’t help me, they won’t even talk to me. How can they punish me for telling the truth?”

Then came the final surprise on May 25, when Scotiabank sent Robinson a letter by registered mail informing her it is terminating its relationship with her and she will no longer be a client as of June 28.

SooToday has viewed the letter, which does not offer a reason for the termination.

“I don’t even know why they did it. Why are they kicking me out? Because I complained and caught their mistake?” said Robinson. “I am worried I am going to die because I can’t get my funding without a bank. I did nothing wrong, I brought to their attention that they deposited the wrong cheque into the wrong account and now they are punishing me by getting rid of me. How is that fair?”

As recommended in the letter, she took immediate steps to find a new bank to make an account and allow her government payments to continue and keep the payroll for the attendants going, but Robinson soon learned most banks require people to attend in person to open a new account.

She said local branches of CIBC and Royal Bank both told her she must attend in person to open an account. She cannot send her attendant or even her husband, who is her power of attorney.

“For me to go to the bank I would have to get someone to pay the ambulance, it takes three firefighters and three paramedics to lift me off the bed, put me on the stretcher and hold me on it, take me to the bank and stay with me and I would have to open the account. Do you really think I should have to do that? That is discrimination for sure,” said Robinson.

“If I was investing money, they would be here. If I had a mortgage, they would come here. Because I have to open an account they said they can’t afford to pay their staff to come here. Is that fair?” she added.

Now Robinson is stuck in bed in her apartment with no bank and no way to pay the attendants who are keeping her alive.

“I didn’t want to come out and show how ugly I am but what am I going to do? I need help. I have to fight,” said Robinson. "I can’t let this disease define me. I didn’t ask for it, I have no control. Why do I have to be looked down on because I am sick? They are supposed to help me and they won’t.”

Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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