Florida ranked 29th in the United Health Foundation’s 2018 report of America’s Health Rankings, but Collier County stands out as breaking from statewide health trends.
The report ranks each state on several factors like behaviors, community and environment, policy, clinical care and health outcomes. Hawaii ranked first, and Louisiana ranked the worst at 50.
According to the report, Florida struggled with:
- A high percentage of uninsured people.
- A high incidence of salmonella.
- A less-than-ideal rate of mental health providers.
- A rise in obesity.
- A rise in chlamydia.
However, Florida had strengths in:
- An increase in high school graduation rates.
- A decrease in child poverty rates.
- A decrease in violent crimes.
- A high immunization rate for children.
- A low cancer death rate.
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The United Health Foundation seeks to improve the health workforce through improving health quality and outcomes. This year is the best Florida has ever ranked in the reports. The lowest it ever ranked was 39th in 1990.
Though Florida improved in its overall ranking, NCH Healthcare System President and CEO Dr. Allen Weiss said Florida may not have ranked better because of the variety of circumstances people in the state face.
“We have a very diverse state, which has a huge socioeconomic disparity, and I think it’s just a challenge,” he said.
While Florida placed close to the middle of the pack in the United Health Foundation’s report, it ranked significantly worse in a 2018 evaluation from The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that seeks to promote a high-performing health care system.
By its measures, Florida ranked 48th in 2018 and was below the U.S. average for all measures: access and affordability, prevention and treatment, avoidable hospital use and cost, healthy lives and disparity.
Access is biggest barrier to health care
Health care access is a problem Dr. Serge Mistivar notices. Mistivar is a family practice provider for the Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida who practices in the Immokalee area.
Insurance dictates access to health care, and many patients simply cannot afford to see a doctor.
“Access is paramount,” Mistivar said.
More: Florida among 10 worst states for health care, WalletHub reports
The Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida is a nonprofit organization that provides health care to insured and uninsured patients. The Healthcare Network uses a sliding fee scale, based on family size and income, for patients paying out of pocket.
Dr. Sajan Rao, a cardiologist at NCH, agrees that access to health care is a challenge. However, Rao noted that patients in Collier County have an abundance of organizations, like the Neighborhood Health Clinic, that make access more feasible.
According to Weiss, NCH has distributed $95 million in charity care.
“But still, lots of people don’t get access when they need it,” Rao said.
Despite Florida’s less-than-stellar ratings in each of the reports, Collier County stands out in several ways.
Kristine Hollingsworth, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Health’s Collier office, explained in a statement that Collier County often ranks in the top two of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Rankings that evaluate length and quality of life.
For the third consecutive year, Naples ranked No. 1 in an annual Gallup-Sharecare well-being survey for residents having the highest sense of purpose and a positive outlook. The Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island metro area was ranked No. 1 in the state for life expectancy in a May 24/7 Wall Street report.
More on the survey: Naples has the highest well-being in the nation, survey shows
Additionally, Weiss said, while the average life expectancy nationally went down, Collier County’s average life expectancy increased.
Hollingsworth acknowledged several shortcomings that Collier County faces. Infant mortality rates are declining, but in Haitian/black populations, the infant mortality rates remain higher than the overall county rate. In line with the rest of the United States, STD rates in Collier County are increasing, and obesity in the county also has room for improvement, according to the statement.
The DOH in Collier partners with several organizations in the county like the Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida to address community needs, and it provides free STD testing days, Hollingsworth said in the statement.
Blue Zones efforts contribute
The county office also partnered with the Blue Zones project, which NCH Healthcare System has sponsored for the past three years.
The Blue Zones project is based on the travels of Dan Buettner, who identified communities worldwide where people share lifestyle traits and live to be 100 or older. He wrote a New York Times best-seller about the nine principles of longevity.
The “Power Nine” include moving naturally through physical activity, eating a plant-slant diet, having a purpose in life, relaxing, socializing and prioritizing loved ones.
The philosophy hinges on the idea that making policy and practical changes that promote healthier choices will help those choices in daily life become habitual.
Mistivar applauds the Blue Zones efforts.
“In Collier County there has been a very good push in encouraging the population to live healthy lifestyles,” he said.
Pursuing a healthy lifestyle through nutrition, exercise and regular checkups are ways the Collier County community can improve its overall health, Mistivar noted.
“Those are simple measures that can keep the population healthy so we can do more preventative work,” he said, “Those are simple measures that can prevent catastrophic health crises.”
To view the full report, click here.
Naples Daily News reporter Liz Freeman contributed to this story.