The number of Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield employees still unaccounted for after the Sept. 11 destruction of the company's World Trade Center headquarters remained at nine yesterday while the number of hospitalized workers was reduced from four to three.
CEO Michael A. Stocker named Grace Rivera, Eddie Rivera, Rhona Pratt and Kenneth Summer as those taken to New York-area hospitals. However, Julie Anderson, the company's manager of public affairs, would not disclose who was released.
“We haven't been giving out names for privacy reasons,” said Anderson, who said counseling is the priority for employees this week.
Empire was one of three Direct Marketing Association members with offices in the Trade Center towers.
Anderson said the relocation of Empire's employees will be done in several phases. So far, “a small amount” have been reassigned. The corporate headquarters has been temporarily relocated to Melville on Long Island. Other facilities in New York that could be used are in Middletown, Yorktown Heights, Albany and Bohemia. The company's chief marketing officer, Jack Smith, is working in Melville.
Anderson could not say whether the headquarters would return to New York City “or if we'll be in another borough [outside Manhattan].”
In a Sept. 18 press release, Stocker assured customers and healthcare providers that their records are intact and that information about claims can be obtained at www.empireblue.com.
Once again, customer service claims payments are being processed, Anderson said.
“I hear everything is intact,” she said. “There were some reports of difficulty in submitting claims [because of] limited capacity on the phone lines, but those problems are being resolved.”
Anderson was on the 28th floor of One World Trade Center, the first of the towers to be hit by the hijacked planes.
“It was almost a blessing in disguise that we didn't know what happened immediately because I think there would have been utter chaos exiting,” she said. “People weren't sure what happened. We saw debris coming down outside our window — stuff falling from the sky. The stairwell was lit. There was hazy smoke in the stairwell, and the visibility was pretty good.
“The hit was incredible. I thought it was an earthquake. It was a simultaneous explosion sound, and the metal just creaked. I had to grab my desk even though I was sitting in my chair because it was moving so much. Almost immediately I smelled the jet fuel. It was a very calm, orderly evacuation. We didn't immediately run out.”
Anderson said she lost track of time during the evacuation. The second tower was hit while she was in the stairwell.
“When the building came down, I couldn't believe it. It was unimaginable,” she said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think that could ever happen. I'm so fearful we will see this again in another form.”
According to a message from Stocker to employees on a toll-free number, Empire's missing employees are: Edward Beyea, Vivian Casalduc, Cynthia Giugliano, Elvira Granitto, Winston Grant, Ramon Grijalvo, Jerome Lohez, Angela Sheinberg and Abraham Zelmanowitz. Empire had 1,914 employees who worked for Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield at One World Trade Center.