Empire Regroups After Losing WTC Offices

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An important step in the emotional healing of employees who worked at Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield's World Trade Center headquarters took place in the week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the United States.


It was then that the company held three meetings for its employees -- in the New York City boroughs of Queens and the Bronx as well as in suburban Secaucus, NJ.


"Those who needed individual counseling received it," said company spokeswoman Soraya Rodriguez, whose office was on the 29th floor of One World Trade Center, where the company occupied 10 floors interspersed between the 17th and 31st floors. "People needed to touch and feel and hug. Many employees saw each other for the first time since the [attack]."


Employees have had to deal with nine of their fellow workers remaining missing and who are presumed dead. Empire had 1,914 people working at the World Trade Center. Three employees remain hospitalized.


"You've seen a sense of putting on the boots and moving ahead," Rodriguez said. "For some of the folks, it was a personal thing to move ahead."


An employee message hotline, which featured news provided by CEO Michael A. Stocker, kept workers updated on the status of the missing and hospitalized. He told listeners that the meetings would include news regarding the company's recovery, counseling and plans for getting staff back to work.


"Within hours [of the attack], we had phone hookups because the priority was to communicate," Rodriguez said. "An Albany [NY] center kicked in immediately, and it served as a first command center. Employees could call in and report their status. Even between [the time when the two planes hit the Twin Towers] many systems were transferred to Albany, and they were asked to make sure all redundancy was intact."


The company's site in Melville, NY, a suburb 30 miles east of New York City on Long Island, has been named as the temporary headquarters, including the marketing department.


"We have some 500 out of [the 1,914 workers] reassigned between Melville and other sites," Rodriguez said. "There's about 200 working from home with laptops dialing in. The 1,200 non-reassigned workers are getting approvals to work from home until we find sites for them. Most have expressed a need to come back to work."


Human resources and IT functions were at the World Trade Center. Core operations not at that location include customer service and claims processing. Most of those two operations are in Melville and the upstate New York communities of Albany and Middletown.


"[Melville] was an existing site that was a customer service center not filled to capacity," she said.


Rodriguez described the event as "transparent" for customers.


"Dial-up was hard for anybody in the first few days [because of] the volume," she said. "There was some difficulty reported in submitting claims in the first few days. For hospitals and physicians, there were no disruptions from their standpoint since they are electronically driven and since data centers are at other sites."


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