News at NCH
"The Healthiest Residents in Florida" By Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, President and CEO

The Healthiest Residents in Florida
By Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, FACP, FACR
President and CEO, NCH Healthcare System

The word last week from two respected healthcare organizations was excellent news for all of us who live here.

According to the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Family Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, Collier County has the healthiest residents in Florida.

Congratulations, Collier County!

The fact is Collier County truly is a healthy place to live. Consider these facts:

  • There is a ten-year difference in life expectancy, depending where one lives in Florida. Collier County has the highest life expectancy.
  • And in the Johnson/Wisconsin Study, Patrick Remington, MD, MPH, Associate Dean for Public Health at the University of Wisconsin, said, “For the first time, every person can compare the overall health of their county to the health of other counties in Florida, and also see where the state needs to improve.”

Each of us in Collier County should be pleased and proud to be part of a healthy community, which benefits all of us individually and collectively. And we should all embrace the challenge of becoming even healthier in the future.

How does a healthy county translate to the social, economic, and overall future for our area? Like the rest of the country, we have been struggling lately. I believe the news about having the state's healthiest residents can become another factor to persuade folks already considering coming to Florida to choose southwest Florida first.

What if the news were not so positive? Imagine we had the least healthy residents in the state. Our self-image as a community would be so different. We would speak, think and write so differently about ourselves. Instead, we have positive feedback from objective, comparative research that shows we are doing well—and by some measures, exceptionally well. That's cause for celebration by all our community leaders.

Please don't misunderstand: We are not perfect. We have much to do through public health efforts to promote better nutrition, fight obesity, encourage exercise and smoking cessation. We have large areas of poverty. More than half of our Collier County Public School students need free or reduced school breakfast and lunches. These same students and their families have limitations in getting access to healthcare.

Access to good care remains a concern, even though we have a network of providers such as Collier County Public Health Service, the Foundation for Women's Health, CHSI (Community Health Services, Inc.), Senior Friendship Center, Neighborhood Health Clinic, Healthy Kids, Horizon Health Clinic, PLAN (Physicians Led Access Network) and the approximately 1,000 practicing physicians in southwest Florida who care for everyone whether they can pay or not.

Obviously hospitals are part of the solution. At the NCH Healthcare System, our community Board of 26 members directs our team of more than 3,500 colleagues (including 630 physicians) to care for everyone. This most recent financial year, NCH provided the equivalent of $48.5 million in charitable care. If these patients had commercial insurance, NCH would have received approximately $ 23.7 million. 15.6% of our patients either cannot pay or are on Medicaid as their primary insurance.

Healthcare is the single largest economic engine for southwest Florida. I hope we will capitalize on this precious resource as an opportunity, and not take for granted our healthcare quality, access and cost structure.

Our Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council are migrating from our primary resources, namely sunshine and an advantageous tax structure, to sustainable endeavors which will add incrementally to southwest Florida's economic output.

NCH is part of that vision.

  • We have had an in-migration of 7% of patients needing total joint replacements, which has resulted in NCH being the second busiest total joint replacement hospital in the country. The famed Hospital for Special Surgery in New York is first.
  • Hazelden (http://www.hazelden.org/) will be bringing patients from around the country and even the world to their new downtown Naples campus in April. Already Hazelden has sponsored monthly seminars in the Telford Auditorium which have been very educational and extremely well attended.
  • Cerner Corporation, which is one of the top information technology companies in the country for healthcare, now has one of the top three senior leaders and his team leading innovation in healthcare at the NCH System. We are a showcase site.
  • Florida Cancer Specialists and 21st Century Oncology are co-located on or near the downtown inpatient oncology unit on the campus of NCH. This clinical partnership serves cancer patients who are time and energy challenged with a “one stop” shop. Both teams are involved in clinical research.
  • Cardiac care at NCH has been recognized twice as being the best in Florida by HealthGrades (http://www.healthgrades.com/).

No measure is perfect, nor does everyone agree on every metric for processes, outcomes or quality. But there is a pattern, a trend, on objective data for everyone to see.

We, as a community need to use this knowledge to our advantage to grow in ways that sustain what we cherish—our health, our economy, our environment, our lifestyle and our sustainability. Our challenge now is to ensure that the residents of southwest Florida continue to set the standard in healthcare for our state.

Meanwhile, the recent facts about Collier County's “healthiest” status are outstanding news for all of us who live and work here.

So take a bow. You've earned it!