Niagara woman still waiting on her 'weight loss grants' refund
Emily Matweow is one of several program participants waiting on her money who spoke to CBC News
For Emily Matweow, it looked like a novel way to lose weight — pay $2,640 to enter a weight loss program, and get $2,112 back if she succeeded.
So the Niagara Falls woman paid to participate in the Weight Loss Grants program. She lost the prescribed amount of weight, she says, and submitted all her paperwork. Now nine months later, she's wondering if the money will ever arrive.
Matweow said she's been stuck in a loop of red tape, unreturned phone calls and frustration since last August, when the program confirmed that she'd succeeded.
"I have a middle name that's called tenacious, and I'm just really bugged about this," said Matweow. As of Thursday, she still hadn't received her money.
"My pendulum swings between ornery and anxious."
Matweow isn't the only one with concerns about the program. In a Go Public segment last week, CBC News interviewed several Weight Loss Grants participants who say they lost the weight, but the private, for-profit company either didn't pay or dragged out the process.
The Better Business Bureau of Central Ontario has also given the organization an "F" grade, as well as a "D" grade for Dalewood Health Clinic, a company with locations that include Hamilton, Burlington and St. Catharines. Matweow says the "grants" program encouraged her to use Dalewood for a more fulsome refund, although Go Public found the two were connected.
"I've been waiting over six moths and now they are telling me I have to re-submit all the paperwork again," says one complaint on the Better Business Bureau site. "The lack of communication and respect by this organization has brought a lot of distress in my life."
"All I would like is the $2,100 I have worked towards," says another complainant, who apparently lost the weight in a fraction of the required time.
"I have tirelessly called and written them to receive nothing but excuses," says another.
Matweow knows the feeling. She's not new to diet and fitness, she said. She's been active her whole life. She knows and understands healthy eating. It's only in the last couple of years, she said, that she got a little more sedentary. She needed some motivation, and "I figured I was prepared to commit $400."
Matweow said after she signed up through Dalewood, she received a kit in the mail with a little vial for DNA. She sent it back, she said, and received a genetic report listing her apparent weaknesses when it came to diet and exercise.
The program also sent her a set of scales and spoons with which to measure food, she said. She started corresponding via email with a dietitian and a fitness consultant. The dietitian sent her food suggestions, and the fitness consultant some "boilerplate exercises."
Matweow lost the 35 pounds she needed to lose and then some. Since then, though, getting her money back has meant navigating a labyrinthian level of red tape.
Matweow provided CBC News with several emails and forms showing that she followed the program's process and has been approved to get her money back.
David Stein, a spokesperon for the Weight Loss Grants program, said in an email that Matweow will get her refund in "mid-May." She didn't submit her documentation from her physician until March, he said.
"We cannot control how long it takes to receive verification of the documents they remit," he said. "For example, we need to verify with service providers that the applicant did not ask for a refund after initially paying, and we need to confirm with their physician that the weight declaration form was signed by a doctor."
"We understand that compliance with the program rules may frustrate some people and delay payment of grants. However, the only way for us to continue to offer the program is if we ensure that grant payments are made only to those that have met the standard."
Matweow disputes that there are still outstanding forms. She's kept close documentation, and followed the rules to the letter.
"Since Aug 28, 2018, I have been repeatedly told everything submitted was approved," she said. "Never was I told any additional substantiation or authentication needed to be completed, or that anything was missing, faulty or suspect."
The organization said in a recent website update that it's discontinuing the "grants" program. It elaborated on a page called "media pile on."
"We think the program has run its course and it's time for other programs to fill the void," it said. "Additionally, it's become a challenge for our team to effectively manage the amount of administration involved in verifying and auditing fraudulent grant claims."
"Unfortunately, many people expect the grant, even if they have not complied with the program guidelines, which then places an undue burden on our administration budget, as well as a public relations crisis."
Dalewood is in the process of changing its name to Trillium Weight Loss. On its website, it said it won't take weight loss grants clients anymore either "in light of the recent media coverage."