When Superstorm Sandy landed in late October and greatly damaged the New Jersey coastline, Katie Hopkins wanted to do something to help.
Hopkins, a Cardinal Dougherty High School graduate and Rockledge resident, is manager of government relations for AmeriHealth Mercy, a health-care company whose primary focus is Medicaid managed care.
“What can we do? What are our tools?” Hopkins thought to herself.
After conferring with colleagues, she settled on a public event titled Superstorm Sandy: The Emotional Aftermath.
The symposium is set for Friday, March 8, from 10 a.m. to noon in the Campus Center Theater of Richard Stockton College, in Galloway, N.J.
Hopkins has lined up Patrick Kennedy, a former congressman from Rhode Island and son of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, as the keynote speaker.
“He’s been the No. 1 cheerleader for mental health in the United States,” Hopkins said.
Kennedy, 45, served in Congress from 1995 to 2010. After leaving the House of Representatives, he married a teacher. He and his wife live in Brigantine, N.J.
In Congress, Kennedy — who is bipolar and has battled alcohol issues — helped shape a new law that requires group health plans to fund care for mental illness at the same level as physical illness.
“He’s pretty candid about his own struggles,” said Chris Drumm, a Pine Valley resident and senior vice president for government and corporate relations at AmeriHealth Mercy.
Hopkins said Drumm has provided guidance during the planning stages, and she thanks the members of her team for handling outreach, RSVPs and other aspects of organizing the event.
Drumm, though, credits Hopkins for the idea and the bulk of the work that has followed.
“It was a compelling idea, and to bring the idea to fruition is a lot of work,”” he said.
Hopkins hopes invited participants in the event will help those dealing with storm-related emotional trauma and acute stress, just like the volunteer plumbers and electricians worked to get people back in their homes after Sandy’s wrath.
“It’s an important event. I’m very excited about it,” she said. “People will have to deal with the aftermath of the storm days, weeks, months and years down the line.”
PerformCare New Jersey, an affiliate of AmeriHealth Mercy, is sponsoring the day, along with AtlanticCare, Catholic Charities, the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies and Richard Stockton College.
Well-known New Jersey broadcaster Steve Adubato will lead a conversation with behavioral health experts. Three elderly couples who were displaced will also be in attendance.
“It’s a pretty eclectic group,” Drumm said.
The forum will also include Adrienne Fessler-Belli, the director of the disaster and terrorism branch of the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Her background includes working with people impacted by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and, more recently, Superstorm Sandy.
“She was with Chris Christie every day for two weeks,” Hopkins said of Fessler-Belli’s work with the New Jersey governor in the aftermath of the storm.
An Olney native and La Salle University graduate, Hopkins credits her parents with instilling in her the values to help others.
At Dougherty, she spent a week building homes in a poor area of West Virginia and participated in the Best Buddies partnership with the special-needs children at Our Lady of Confidence. She’s also volunteered for the Fox Chase Champions, which offers a sports program for young people with special needs.
In May, she plans to travel to New Orleans to help build homes as part of the St. Bernard Project, an initiative of lawyer Zack Rosenburg, who’ll be a panelist at the upcoming forum.
Hopkins is buoyed by the positive response to the forum from church and community leaders, first responders and emergency management officials in Atlantic, Ocean, Cape May and Monmouth counties.
“People are coming out of the woodwork,” she said.
The mission of AmeriHealth Mercy, which is based in Delaware County, just across the border from Southwest Philadelphia, is to help people get care, stay well and build healthy communities.
After the forum, Hopkins expects people experiencing stress and emotional trauma to be able to get the resources they need during the ongoing recovery.
“We can help,” she said. “It is very rewarding. It’s not every day you can reach out, build networks and help change someone’s life.” ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or email@example.com