Swifty Leaves Workers Uninsured

DURHAM, N.C. -- The situation at defunct Swifty Serve Corp. continues to get uglier for the 3,000-plus former employees.

According to workers, The First Health Network, a national healthcare provider that insured Swifty, had agreed to extend coverage for 60 days after the 420-store convenience chain ceased operations earlier this month, CSNews Online has learned.

"First Health has dropped us. Health insurance premiums were withheld from our paychecks even though we are not covered," said laid off employee Suzelle Oliver. "Where did the premiums go that have been withheld from our wages, and why did First Health not give us the grace period of coverage? Anyone with a medical problem now has a preexisting and will not be insurable since the insurance was canceled."

Answers to Oliver's questions were not immediate.

Jeff Hamill, who was brought in six months ago to help resuscitate Swifty, told CSNews Online that he had resigned as CEO and president about two weeks ago, following the bankruptcy filing and being assured that employees would be paid for their final weeks.

Many employees said they received their last check as early as last Wednesday. Some still await final payments.

"I'm not part of Swifty Serve anymore," said Hamill, who is relocating to the West Coast. "I wish I could help. It's really unfortunate what's happened. I get the same message when I dial the 800 number as any employee has gotten. Hopefully something gets turned around here with the trustee as far as communication is concerned because right now you basically get nothing. I'm just a former employee and am basically treated the same way.

"I wish I could say that they should call Human Resources but there's nobody working for the company anymore," Hamill added.

Efforts to reach an official at First Health Network were not successful Tuesday.

Concerns over health coverage come amid an appointment by the bankruptcy court of a trustee to oversee Swifty's liquidation.

Judge Catherine Carruthers of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of North Carolina tapped attorney Richard Hutson as trustee and directed him to file a report within 30 days to determine the bankruptcy status of the company.

Hutson, a partner at the Durham, N.C. firm Hutson Hughes & Powell, could not be reached for comment.

Swifty Serve was founded in 1997 by a consortium led by onetime "M.A.S.H." TV actor Wayne Rogers and W. Clay Hamner. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Oct. 4. in the Greensboro court.

In a recent interview, Hamill, a former 7-Eleven executive who joined Swifty in April, blamed the company's demise on depressed fuel margins and the inability to successfully integrate numerous acquisitions completed over a four-year run.