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Atlantic City's Health Department faces funding, staff cuts

Atlantic City’s Health Department, down to just one employee and 20 percent of its 2014 funding, is a health department in name only.

The public health arm of City Hall — the only municipal health department in Atlantic County — relies heavily on the county to pick up the slack through a shared-service agreement that is less than two years old.

The good news is that has helped the city save money. The bad news is it makes access to care more challenging for residents.

“It’s a convenience problem if you don’t have a car,” said Geoff Rosenberger, a member of the 1st Ward Civic Association. He remembers when his neighborhood, the South Inlet, had plenty of doctors and health services nearby. Now, they’re downtown. “I think most of Atlantic City doesn’t have cars.”

Funding has been cut dramatically in recent years. In 2014, the city allocated $1.8 million for health administration and $1.15 million for clinical services. In 2018, just shy of $600,000 was given for health administration, and no funds were earmarked for clinical services.

The Atlantic County department says it has brought about five of the city’s employees into its fold and saved the city $1 million — the city paid $936,431 to the county last year, after setting aside $2 million a year for the services.

Figuring out how best to serve the city’s population has been a continuing learning process for the county department, according to Atlantic County Health Officer Patricia Diamond. Where to put information in other languages and what locations would be most convenient for educational programs are among their considerations.

“When you’re taking on any new project, you need to get familiar with the population and their needs, and that’s what we’re continuing to do,” Diamond said.

The county has someone on call around the clock to respond to reported communicable disease incidents, per state requirements. And follow-ups for compliance with prescribed tuberculosis medication and for children exposed to lead are done in residents’ homes, Diamond said. Some of the county’s health education work includes quarterly newsletters distributed around the city, presentations to community groups and, periodically, a survey meant to identify what residents see as barriers to access.

But the county’s brick-and-mortar clinics are in Hammonton and Northfield, already an access issue for many Atlantic City residents without cars who need cancer screenings, immunizations or other services.

“If you have services nearby, it is much easier to take advantage of them if they are within easy traveling distance,” said Jim Johnson, the state’s special counsel tasked with identifying issues in the city and making recommendations to get it back on its feet.

And if an uninsured person needs emergency medical attention, without a city-employed doctor, they head to an emergency room. Nationally, about 80 percent of those who arrive at emergency rooms with a mental health crisis or substance abuse issue don’t meet the criteria for inpatient admission, said Mary Ditri, the New Jersey Hospital Association’s director of professional practice.

From 2017 to 2018, there was a 4.5 percent increase in emergency room visits at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center. And a hospital association report found that in 2017, Atlantic City residents visited the emergency room for chronic illnesses at a higher rate than any other New Jersey city’s populace, most commonly for substance-abuse issues.

“We all know that, no matter how well-intended any clinician is in that emergency department, that setting is not the place for someone who doesn’t need it,” Ditri said.

Three task forces are exploring whether the current set up is the best option for the city.

“Given the different morbidities, the death rates from a series of diseases and the fact that I know there’s only one employee,” Johnson said, “that was enough for me to conclude and to recommend that we take a hard look at the needs and try to match up the services provided … to the people of Atlantic City.”

Some with past experience with the department are confused as to where it stands and what its future looks like.

Jon Regis, president and CEO of Reliance Medical Group, which had a contract with the city Health Department from the mid 1990s until a few years ago, said they had health offices right in the city and doctors on staff. He said their original contract was worth $2.7 million, which covered 30-some employees. Once they started billing residents with insurance for some services, they got the city’s bill down to around $800,000, Regis said.

“You go to the city now, nobody knows where to go,” Regis said. “If you have an STD problem or you think you’ve been exposed, I guess you call the county and schlep out to Northfield. ... We had offices right in the city.”

A review of archived versions of the city’s website from 2014 shows the city offering a list of services from HIV prevention including counseling and testing services, to a wellness program that ran health workshops for city employees. The current website lists only the Department of Health and Human Services’ nonclinical duties, such as restaurant inspection and animal control.

At the department’s office in City Hall in February, Director Dale Finch, who supervises the Health Department and others, directed all comment requests to the Mayor’s Office. When asked where a resident could find information on services, there was no clear answer.

“Part of the issue of access is information that is readily available to you so you can make decisions on where to go,” Johnson said. “And if it is difficult for people to find the information — and this applies to a wide variety of issues, not just health issues — then, in some respects, it’s almost like not having them.”

People are talking about how to reinvent Atlantic City. Join the conversation here.

Former Mays Landing resident earned first Grammy Award statue in February

Darhyl “DJ” Camper Jr., who has had multiple Grammy nominations over the years, has met many starry-eyed teenagers who want to have a career as a recording artist.

But, H.E.R., a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, was different than the average 15-year-old who aspires to make it in the music business.

Camper, a former Mays Landing resident, decided to work with H.E.R. six years ago.

Their work on the 21-track compilation album, “H.E.R.,” which was released in October 2017, earned them each their first Grammy Award statues in February in the category of Best R&B Album.

“When they finally called our category, I just cried in my mother’s arms, and I thought about everything — where I’ve come from, where I’m about to go, where I’m at,” said Camper about being inside the Staples Center in Los Angeles, for the ceremony. “I’m still trying to process everything.”

Camper, 28, brought his mother, who lives in Ventnor, as his date to the Grammys. She wore a gold, off-the-shoulder evening gown. He also took his three brothers and his sister, who all reside in the resort.

Camper, who moved last year to New Brunswick, Middlesex County, was back in Ventnor recently for the first time since winning his Grammy.

Over the years, Camper has either written or produced songs or done both for acts that include rappers Big Sean, Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj and R&B artists Tamar Braxton, John Legend and Mary J. Blige He also produced a song sung by pop vocalist Jessie J. on last year’s “Fifty Shades Freed” soundtrack.

Camper, a 2008 Oakcrest High School graduate, chose to work with H.E.R. because their personalities meshed, and they caught a vibe when they decided to see how they would jell in the recording studio.

In 2016, H.E.R., who sings and plays bass, acoustic guitar and electric piano, put out a seven-song extended play release that included four songs co-written by Camper. In June 2017, H.E.R. issued another extended play release, where Camper co-wrote four out of eight songs.

Songs from each of the extended play releases were combined with six new songs, of which Camper produced one, to create the compilation album, “H.E.R.,” which was the Grammy winner.

“I always knew she could sing. I always knew she was special. I just had to figure out the sound,” said Camper, who some say has created a modernized version of the throwback R&B sound for “H.E.R.” “I saw something in H.E.R. It caught my interest. She impressed me.”

One of the songs Camper co-produced and co-wrote with H.E.R., “Focus,” reached No. 1 on the U.S. adult R&B chart.

The urban adult contemporary radio station WTTH 96.1-FM, based out of West Atlantic City, put “Focus” into rotation last year and still plays the song at least five times daily on weekdays, said Rob Garcia. WTTH’s director of programming.

“We love the song. It was certainly doing well on the charts. That’s part of the reason why we added it,” Garcia said. “Overall, it is a very good song. It fits the format well. It fits the station well.”

Camper attended the Grammys in a custom made, double-breasted, two-button lavender tuxedo. The word “dad” was written in Hebrew and embroidered into the suit in tribute to his late father, Darhyl Anthony Camper.

During the live Grammy telecast, H.E.R. won in the best R&B album category. In a clip that has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube, you can see H.E.R. invite her whole team to the stage. Camper is the first one of six people on stage and sticks out with his lavender suit.

From the stage, H.E.R. said she won for a release that is not her full-length debut album, which has not been released yet, but Camper will work on it. He will receive his Grammy statue in March. He said he will leave it with his mom.

“I’m an underdog that won,” said Camper, who compared himself to Michael Jordan being on the Olympic Dream Team with older basketball legends. “I’m learning to accept my new role in life. ... I’m that guy in music right now.”

18-year-old Hammonton native to compete in Special Olympics World Games triathlon

Chris Wines had a motto that he would repeat to himself when he competed at the local- and state-level triathlons this past year.

“I would say at every event, ‘road to World Games’, ‘road to World Games,’” said the 18-year-old from Hammonton.

Now that road has ended, and Wines plans to travel Monday to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to compete in the 2019 Special Olympics World Games.

With the new path unfolding, Wines has also adopted a new mantra.

“Go for gold,” he said.

Wines is one of 216 athletes in the United States and one of three from New Jersey who will compete in the games from March 14 to 21.

He has been competing with the Special Olympics since 2013 in multiple events including swimming, floor hockey, softball and triathlon.

He will only compete in triathlon, a sport he started dedicating himself to about five years ago. The event is scheduled to take place March 8.

Matt Willey was Wines’ gym teacher at the Y.A.L.E. School in Cherry Hill, which serves students with one or a combination of social and learning disabilities, and was the person who helped get Wines started in the swimming, biking and running event.

“He was always running around full of energy, and I’m a triathlete myself and I knew about the triathlon. I thought he be the ideal person,” he said.

When Willey got an email eight months ago from Special Olympics New Jersey for the opportunity, he passed it along to Wines’ parents.

“We were just regular triathletes. Now he’s at the pinnacle for Special Olympics,” Willey said. “He can’t go any higher than this with Special Olympics. He’s going to compete against the other best triathletes in the world.”

The triathlon will consist of a 800-meter swim, a 12-mile bike and a three-mile run.

Wines has been training under the guidance of Noah Dellas, of Cape May Court House.

Dellas competed and won the same triathlon event at the 2015 World Games in Los Angeles.

Dellas has been helping Wines with strength and resistance training in the pool and on the treadmill. They meet at the Ocean City Aquatic Center two times a week and spend about an hour in the pool before biking and running for two hours after.

“Strategy would be find a rhythm in the swimming portion because if I tire myself out with that, I’m tired throughout the rest of the race,” Wines said.

They have also prepared for keeping his course straight during the swim, which poses its own unique challenges in open water instead of in a pool.

“It’s relatively calm, but you won’t have anything to go off of,” Dellas said. “We’re working on him spotting every so often so he doesn’t go off.”

Dellas said he sees a lot of himself in Wines.

“I think he’s going to do well. I think he’s going to do well in life altogether just because he has that mindset,” Dellas said. “He wants to commit himself 100 percent with whatever, and he has a great passion and a great personality, and I think that will go a long way.”

Along with Special Olympics sports, Wines played on the Y.A.L.E school’s soccer, softball and basketball teams. He also took part in the school’s color guard, chorus, robotics and dance groups. His hobbies include drumming, coding, photography, cooking and participating in a Revolutionary War re- enactment group.

Adding to this long list of achievements, Wines was also given more responsibilities as he was named Hammonton’s first-ever “mayor for a day” at a sendoff luncheon on Wednesday. It was also declared Chris Wines Day in Atlantic County.

His parents Ron and Debbie, who will be cheering Chris on from home, are proud of what he has been able to accomplish in and out of sports.

His father remembered watching him call out to his teammates and encourage them at his most recent basketball game.

“He’s come out of his shell, and he’s just a totally different person,” his mother said.

Although he’s not looking forward to the 14-hour flight, Chris Wines said he is excited to compete in something bigger than himself.

“He’s just the kind of kid who’s just going to embrace that and get everything out of it that he can,” Willey said.

Craig Matthews / Staff photo 

Many A.C. residents are forced to use the emergency room at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus because clinics are outside the city.

Ocean City's new police chief wants to stay in tune with residents

OCEAN CITY — After John J. Prettyman became a captain at the city police department in 2008, he ran in the Boston Marathon.

But Prettyman said Tuesday he has “nothing that extreme” planned to celebrate his promotion to chief of police, which became official last month.

“In a customer-service model, our citizens really are our customers and we’re really trying to provide the highest level of service that we can,” Prettyman, 48, said. “My goal for now, really, is to keep doing what we do and keep trying to do it better.”

Crime in “American’s Greatest Family Resort,” is relatively low, with only 5 violent crimes reported from January through November of last year, down from 11 during that same time period in 2017, according to the State Police Uniform Crime Report.

Non-violent crimes were also down, from 376 to 275, an almost 27 percent decrease.

While Prettyman officially took over the role Feb. 1, his salary is still under negotiation, according to a news release from the city. Local ordinance caps the range for the position at $160,000 annually.

John Batastini, an Ocean City resident who was enjoying a bite to eat at Yianni’s Café on Asbury Avenue last week, said he sees Prettyman out and about often, talking to people.

“I think they made a great choice,” he said. “He’s very dedicated to his profession.”

Prettyman, who’s been with the department since 1995, said he’s focused on keeping the department in tune with the community’s needs.

“I don’t see any major need for any major changes, aside from just making what we do better,” he said, touching on technology and community engagement programs that already exist in the resort. “It’s important for us to stay in touch with our residents and our visitors so that we know the level of policing and the style of policing that they expect from us.”

And the city gets a lot of visitors. People generally agree that between 130,000 and 160,000 are in the city during the peak of the summer season, Prettyman said.

Years ago, Prettyman was one of those visitors, he said, coming down with friends from Temple University in Philadelphia, where he was studying to be an architect after growing up in Voorhees, Camden County.

“I came down here with them and just never went back,” he said, explaining that he took on a position as a Class II, or seasonal officer, during the summer. “I was really in tune with it, so I decided to stick it out.”

Helen Libro, a 30-year veteran employee of Ready’s Coffee Shop on Eighth Street, said Prettyman is always a gentleman when he visits the eatery.

“I’ve really just happy that he got that promotion,” she said from behind the counter of the coffee shop. “He doesn’t want to fix anything that’s not broken.”

In his new role, Prettyman said he plans on working hard with the 60 full-time officers that work under him, as well as about 50 seasonal officers, who work from April to mid-October.

“My legacy, I want to be, that I was the hardest-working guy that’s ever come through this place,” he said. “No matter what my short-term goal was, or what my long-term goal was, every day I want to give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.”