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Alex Brandon / Associated Press  

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) warms up before the NFL football game between the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018 in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Self-care just as important for caregivers of adults and children, experts say

In the entranceway of Sabrina Winters’ home in Atlantic City, a hutch filled with framed pictures, certificates and documents took up space against a wall on the right.

“That’s her,” Winters said pointing to an enlarged photo of her and her mother on Pacific Avenue wearing tank tops and short sleeves. “Wherever I was, it was a home base for my mom.”

Winters, 49, of Atlantic City, spent most of her life caring for her late mother, who suffered from mental illness and substance use disorders.

She became part of 43.5 million people nationally who provide unpaid care to an adult or child, often needing supportive services themselves.

Experts say asking and seeking help can be crucial to achieve a good balance, especially for those who are caring for loved ones who suffer from chronic, lifelong illnesses or disabilities.

About 78 percent of caregivers report needing more help and information on topics related to their role, according to the National Center on Caregiving.

“There can be a lot going on, a lot of things to figure out, so we try to help them sift through all of that,” said Meghan Schweer, director of family services at the Mental Health Association in Atlantic County. “There’s a high burnout rate and we try to take some pieces off their plates.”

To look more closely at the needs of caregivers, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill into law last week to create a state Caregiver Task Force, which will be responsible for identify existing caregiver support services and recognizing areas that need improvement.

Winters and her brothers were raised by their father and grandmother, but their mother was always around even as she spent time in and out of county jail or Ancora Psychiatric Hospital.

Winters said they all felt a responsibility to look out for their mother, and did so in their own ways, though a lot of the in-person caregiving fell on her.

“Some people can do it and some can’t,” she said. “It’s even more frustrating when you love a person, but you want to scratch their face off. But if someone called about her, one of us would always show up for my mom.”

It wasn’t until 2005 when Winters got connected to Portia Trader, family advocate at the Mental Health Association, which made a difference in not only how she was able to care for her mother, but how she was able to better understand the illnesses and diseases her mother suffered from.

Schweer said there can be a lot of confusion for families on where to get help at the beginning of a diagnosis or symptomatic behavior. Caregivers can develop stress, anxiety and even depression while trying to handle all the health care, financial, housing, social services and more related to the situation.

It’s why the association helps link and refer people to the right clinical organizations. It also holds individual and group counseling sessions to help caregivers understand they need to take care of themselves, too, and they are not alone, she said.

“Our family advocates all have personal experience and know what it’s like to have that kind of stress,” Schweer said. “We explain to people that if they don’t take care of themselves, they may actually make themselves sick.”

Blame and guilt can also play big parts in a caregiver’s struggle, said Andrea Burleigh, executive director for the Atlantic Cape Family Support Organization, especially among caregivers of children with emotional, developmental, behavioral, substance use or mental health issues.

“They (parents) blame themselves. They may feel embarrassed and ashamed,” she said. “With my daughter, my biggest challenge was that I thought I could go and save her. As parents, that’s what you want to do and feel frustrated when you can’t. I had to realize it was her journey.”

Atlantic Cape Family Support Organization offers supportive services and education for people who care for children whereas the county association’s services focus on adults.

A team of experienced peer support partners work to help families navigate the complexity of the health care system. They also focus on the caregivers and make sure they are staying healthy, both mentally and physically.

Getting help and education was important to Winters and her family when it came to her mother, who passed away in 2016, she said.

“Mental illness can be cunning and deceitful. At times, I would be so frustrated and hurt, and that’s when Miss Portia would talk to me and would reinforce that it was a disease. It affects the whole family,” Winters said.

“But my mom had times of normalcy,” she said. “She loved the Boardwalk and the beach. You could tell she enjoyed it in the moment. That was our time, the best time. It was just love and laughter.”

Krishna / Krishna mathias / press graphic  

The past year in Atlantic City will be remembered for the tangible changes to the resort that were the result of years-long planning and development. The opening of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino, Stockton University’s Gateway Campus, South Jersey Industries’ corporate headquarters, Borarie Development’s market-rate housing project 600 North Beach and several new small businesses on the ‘Orange Loop’ all contributed to the growth made by Atlantic City in 2018, state and city officials said.

Atlantic City looks to build on 2018 successes, execute in 2019

ATLANTIC CITY — The first year of the Murphy administration’s oversight of the resort built upon the groundwork already in place and produced a blueprint for what it hopes is a sustainable, and achievable, future for the rebounding resort.

State and city officials believe 2019 will be measured by how well that plan is executed.

“One of the things that we prioritized was doing an examination of the quality of life in Atlantic City for the people who live there,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who is acting chief executive of the state while Gov. Phil Murphy is out of the country until Wednesday, “while also examining ways that we could broaden economic development in the city and to give investor confidence. So, we feel that we got off to a good start in 2018.”

The past year in Atlantic City will be remembered for the tangible changes to the resort that were the result of years-long planning and development. The opening of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino, Stockton University’s Gateway Campus, South Jersey Industries’ corporate headquarters, Borarie Development’s market-rate housing project 600 North Beach and several new small businesses on the “Orange Loop” (Tennessee and New York avenues and St. James Place) all contributed to the growth made by Atlantic City in 2018, state and city officials said.

As Council President Marty Small Sr. said: “2018 was a banner year.”

But the ability to sustain the progress is the next challenge, Small said.

“It’s all about execution,” said Small, a former basketball standout at Stockton who employed a sports metaphor to drive-home the focus in 2019. “As an athlete, you can go out with a game plan and not execute and you did all that practicing for nothing. So, we’ve just got to keep it up, keep the momentum and do what’s best for the residents.”

Oliver, who also serves as commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs, credited the “painful” financial work done since the takeover began — cuts to police and firefighter staffing, the settling of tax appeals with the casinos and bonding to pay down existing debt obligations — with “long-term gains” for the city.

She added that the contentious relationship between the state and city officials since the takeover began in 2016 had improved because those tough decisions had already been made.

“There is a way to have stable government (in Atlantic City),” she said. “What we’re really trying to do is set the tone for how to run an effective government.”

The culmination of the administration’s efforts in identifying what steps needed to be taken in Atlantic City was the state’s transition report, co-authored by Special Counsel Jim Johnson, the former U.S. Treasury undersecretary and 2017 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who was appointed by Murphy in early-2018. Johnson described his role as somewhat of a “secretary” who met with community stakeholders from every corner of the city and used the input he received to articulate their needs into the report.

“My perspective is this: you can’t fix the problem until you face the problem,” said Johnson, who advocated for removing the independent “silos” which the city’s various entities — the casino industry, local government, small businesses, civic groups, residents, etc. — operated from. “We ended up taking a much broader scan.”

Several of the Johnson report’s recommendations were almost immediately implemented. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which oversees land-use and zoning in Atlantic City’s Tourism District, moved planning personnel into City Hall. City Council created a Citizen Advisory Board to work with the Atlantic City Police Department. The Atlantic City Executive Council and the Atlantic City Coordinating Council, two advisory committees made up of various community stakeholders, were formed and have already met multiple times. The state also created the Project Office, located in City Hall and staffed with Department of Community Affairs employees, to more effectively implement the Johnson report’s recommendations.

Oliver said the the groups and its members will focus on a variety of issues in 2019, including public health and safety, education and economic opportunities.

“I think 2019 is the year that we now are going to see sustainable projects and sustainable development,” she said, “and it all comes down to execution.”

How to ease island flooding? Some Jersey shore towns are using bayside islets

At Thursday’s high tide, a tiny tugboat named Bonnie pulled a red barge through Great Egg Harbor Bay.

It headed to Beesleys Point 2 miles away to be filled with up to 300 tons of rock before returning to Shooting Island, an eroding wetland within eyesight of Ocean City’s back bay.

As shore towns grapple with how to mitigate flooding, some are turning their attention away from building hard, concrete structures, such as seawalls, and toward restoring more natural barriers.

Officials say some of these natural barriers, which have been slowly disappearing for years, can be rebuilt as a buffer against storm surges. The small, bayside islands, or islets, dot larger barrier islands across Atlantic and Cape May counties.

Ocean City’s once-150-acre Shooting Island is the largest such endeavor in South Jersey.

The city is restoring what was once a dredge material site by stocking it with oyster habitats and placing a rock wall around a portion of it.

The island could be gone by 2100 if nothing is done, the city says.

These bay islands are a first defense against flooding,” said Junetta Dix, environmental director of Act Engineers Inc., the firm tasked with developing a long-term dredging plan. “If it’s flooding in your back door and you have hard wood floors, it comes straight across. But if you have big, deep shag carpets, in this case it’s vegetation and rocks, then it hits that and it slows down and it dissipates.”

Work began last week on the $2.75 million project, funded partially by a $2.6 million federal grant. A crew of construction workers in hard hats were continuing to install 2,700 feet of rock sill along the island’s west side on last week, even as pieces of the marsh fell off.

Once that’s complete, they will place 1,450 feet of open concrete blocks that lock together on the shoreline for oyster habitats. Plants may be added during another phase of the project if the city applies for and receives dredging permits, which takes years.

Using bay islands for flood mitigation is a budding concept in New Jersey. It’s also been done in the Chesapeake Bay area.

For years, officials in Margate and Ventnor have been eyeing Shelter Island off Ventnor as a way to protect the vulnerable back bay. In 2014, the cities hired the Coastal Research Center to study the island.

In the center of the marshland is a giant hole. Shelter Island’s center was dug out in the 1920s to 27-foot water depths to build Ventnor Heights. Researchers with the CRC estimated that 900,000 cubic yards of sediment would be needed to fill that hole, bring the island to one-foot of elevation and restore 47 acres of marsh.

Then, the hope is that it could act as a buffer against boat wake action and nor’easters.

“Everyone is taking a new look at (flood mitigation)” said Jim Rutala, Ventnor’s grant writer. “Our greatest exposure is no longer the ocean front. It’s the back bays.”

Even as the concept gains momentum, it’s not without controversy.

Some have pushed back against the idea of altering natural habitats with dredge spoils, while others have reservations about the high cost of such projects amid a lack of evidence that they would mitigate flooding in the portion of New Jersey in the Intercoastal Waterway.

“It makes no financial sense to me and we strongly suspect based on our research that (the Shooting Island project) may actually exacerbate flooding,” Suzanne Hornick, board member of Ocean City organization Fairness in Taxes, said of the restoration being done in Ocean City.

Donna Moore, who chairs the group’s environmental committee, is concerned that the rock sill placed on the Shooting Island’s northwestern side will prevent water from draining back into the bay from the streets after nor’easters.

Other similar projects have been successful though, said USACE Project Manager Monica Chasten.

Mordecai Island off Beach Haven was restored in 2015 without flood mitigation in mind. The Army Corps of Engineers placed dredge spoils on the 45-acre salt marsh, initially as a way to reuse the silt removed from the bottom of nearby bodies of water and stop erosion.

But after its completion, Chasten said, nearby landowners noticed a difference in wave action in the bay.

“You can see the waves breaking further out,” Chasten said. “It’s like a speed bump.”

Right now, the Army Corps only has anecdotes to justify such undertakings.

Over the next year, Chasten said, the Army Corps will collect data on the impact that restoring Mordecai Island had on reducing wave action, and later look at whether the project actually protects residential properties from flooding.

“All of these projects are still learning activities,” Chasten said. “There has to be that realization out of the gate. ... But it’s a simple no-brainer. We build these islands, and they break waves.”

Cape May County vision for ex-Kmart complex includes mix of government offices

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Vacant for more than a year, the building that once housed the Kmart in Rio Grande could become county offices in addition to serving as a medical clinic for veterans.

At a recent freeholders meeting, Cape May County’s governing body unanimously approved a $7 million emergency appropriation for the purchase of the building. Plans call for the county to relocate its Social Services office to the building.

According to Denis Brown, the county’s administrative aide, the deal will mean better financial terms for the county and the offices will be more accessible to the public.

Cape May VA clinic to move in 2020

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will move Cape May County’s VA Outpatient Clinic from Cape May to Rio Grande in 2020, doubling the size of the clinic and moving it to a more central location in the county.

The property had been appraised at more than $10 million, he said. At auction this year, the county put in the final bid of $5.75 million, short of the $7 million the freeholders had appropriated. Renovations to the building are expected to cost millions more, with an estimate between $6 million and $7 million.

At one time, the Rio Grande Kmart was the largest chain retail store in the area. Later, commercial development in the area brought new options, including a Walmart SuperCenter a short distance away. In January 2017, Sears Holdings included the Rio Grande Kmart in a list of 78 Sears and Kmart locations to close across the country.

A portion of the building is slated for use as a community-based veterans clinic. The Department of Veteran Affairs announced the deal earlier this month.

The VA will pay $1.3 million toward renovations, then pay rent to the county for the use of the space, according to county officials. There are also discussions over state offices locating in the same building under a lease agreement.

According to Brown, the county will double the space for the Social Services offices at less than the cost to lease the existing building. State and federal funds will help offset the cost of operations, he said.

The purchase also includes existing businesses, which Brown expects to remain open under county ownership.

“Nothing about the businesses there is going to change,” he said. The businesses will now pay rent to the county under their existing lease agreements. Businesses at the site include a gaming store, Save-a-Lot food store, a rental business and a Franks Theatres location.

Franks Theaters, based in Jupiter, Florida, formerly owned the property under an investment company. The Rio Grande Shopping Center was one of four Franks entities that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September.

According to Brown, the county originally planned to lease just the Kmart building, a deal that had been in the works for months but changed tack when the land came up for auction.

“County Counsel Jeff Lindsay called me with the idea of purchasing the property, and when he explained how it could benefit the county, we all decided to jump on it,” said Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton. “Freeholder Jeff Pierson and I have been working on this project for a while. I am proud of the whole team who put this project together.”

Renovations to the former Kmart building will be undertaken with the Cumberland County Improvement Authority serving as project manager, Brown said, under a deal that had been worked out earlier this year, when the county expected to merely lease the building.

County officials expect the VA clinic to be operational by February 2020, with the new location for the Social Services office to open after that.

Cape May County Rio Grande social services,VA Clinic map

Middle Township Committeeman Timothy Donohue, widely expected to be named mayor when Township Committee reorganizes Jan. 2, said township officials are analyzing the impact the planned mix of private tenants and government agencies will have on the township’s ratable base.

“We are glad to see the space being improved, the expansion of access to Social Services and the announcement of the location of a state-of-the-art veterans’ health care clinic in Middle Township,” Donohue said.