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Bellingham’s Sterling Insurance office to close, 55 lose jobs

Sterling Life Insurance’s Bellingham office in the Barkley District, shown Wednesday, March 16, is closing and 55 employees are being laid off.
Sterling Life Insurance’s Bellingham office in the Barkley District, shown Wednesday, March 16, is closing and 55 employees are being laid off. eabell@bhamherald.com

An insurance company that was once one of Bellingham’s largest employers is closing its Barkley District office.

Sterling Life Insurance Company submitted a worker layoff notice to the Washington State Employment Security Department. In the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, it said 55 employees were being laid off as of Wednesday, May 11. The company, which sells Medicare supplement policies, has an office at 2219 Rimland Drive.

The office was slated for closure after Cigna agreed to purchase Sterling Life from WellCare Health Plans Inc. in July 2015. The staff currently there remained in place during the transition period, said Jim Angstadt, a spokesman for Cigna. The company is in the process of converting the Sterling operations to Cigna’s business system and moving the processing portion of Sterling to Austin, Texas.

Angstadt said Cigna expects to have the transition completed by the end of April. The staff in Bellingham are eligible to apply for positions at Cigna.

The Bellingham WorkSource office also will reach out to the workers to ensure they have information on how to apply for unemployment benefits and to assist them in finding new jobs, said Chad Pearson, who works in the Washington Employment Security Department’s communication office.

This insurance office was a major employer in Bellingham for decades. Originally started as Olympic Health Management in 1989, the company steadily grew in a building near the Bellingham Public Library before moving over to the Barkley District. In 1998, it was sold to a firm called Aon. In 2008, it was purchased by Munich Re for $352 million.

By August 2009, the company transitioned over to Sterling Life and had 715 employees in Bellingham. As changes to the health care industry took place, the Bellingham office began shedding jobs, dropping to 500 employees by January 2011. In January 2014 Munich Re sold Sterling to WellCare.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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