15 years later– How the Blue Cross Iron Range offices are thrivingJune 21, 2017
Fifteen years ago, Blue Cross opened two offices on Minnesota’s Iron Range with 145 employees. More than half of those people are still there today. And they have many more colleagues alongside them today. The offices, located in Virginia and Aurora, now employ more than 500 people who mostly process claims and handle customer service calls.
To mark the 15-year anniversary, we asked Penny Erchul, director of service delivery for the Virginia and Aurora offices, to give us a glimpse of the past, present and future.
Penny joined Blue Cross ten years ago as a provider service manager. Since her time in leadership with Blue Cross, she’s supported many changes in the team’s capabilities and the service team has more than doubled in size.
What makes the Iron Range such a good fit for Blue Cross’ business needs?
The northern region has a strong health care base. This is largely because there are several colleges with healthcare-related programs in the area. There is also a strong customer service base in the area. We’ve taken advantage of that and hired graduates in the healthcare fields, as well as people with strong customer service experience.
The northern offices experience high employee retention because these types of positions are somewhat unique in this area. Also, Blue Cross offers competitive pay and benefit packages, which helps us keep good people.
How have the Iron Range offices grown and changed?
The claims staff has grown from an average of 125 employees to more than 200. The service staff has grown from an average of 100 employees to more than 230. Plus, there are more than 90 people in other roles who report to leaders in the northern offices.
In the beginning, the claims examiners all worked in the offices. That’s shifted. Now about 150 of them work from home.
Also, our service staff has shifted in their responsibilities. Customer service used to only handle calls from doctors, clinics and other health care providers. Now when a Medicare or Medicaid member calls, they are likely to talk to one of our northern office service representatives to get their questions answered.
Additionally, with the improvements in technology, we are now able to hire for positions that have traditionally only been filled in Eagan. We are hoping to see this expand even further in the future so that we can take advantage of hiring graduates from our many nearby colleges.
How have the Blue Cross’ offices had an impact on the Iron Range communities?
There are several ways. We are now one of the largest employers in the area. This is an industrial area with several iron ore mines. Outside of the mining industry, there is a limited number of jobs that offer the level of pay and benefits that Blue Cross does. Also, we are an attractive option for people who want a career in a business atmosphere.
We also give back to the community through volunteering and fundraising drives. We raised nearly $11,000 for local food shelves this spring. More than 50 employees have volunteered for Habitat for Humanity already this year.
We like to have a lot of fun with it up here, and we have even received awards from the community for our efforts. Chrissy Carlson, the claims director, and I are quite proud of our teams and their commitment to volunteerism.
How do you find the best people in a smaller community?
I am always looking for skilled employees. I know how important training is to not only getting the right people, but to keep them.
We recently partnered with the local community college— which happens to be right across our parking lot— to create a certificate program with courses that align to the type of skills we look for in customer service. The certificate program also expands to both two-year and four-year degree programs. Our hope is to be able to recruit directly from the college to fill future positions.
A celebration of 15 years
The Blue Cross Virginia and Aurora offices held special gatherings this month to celebrate their 15 years on the Iron Range and honor the employees who’ve been there since the start.
Want to read more? The northern offices are highlighted in a special publication by Twin Cities Business magazine.