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Foundation lists Florida as 34th healthiest state

By Staff | Dec 18, 2012

A national health ranking, which was recently released by America’s Health Rankings United Health Foundation, lists Florida as the 34th healthiest state.

Sally Jackson, system director of government and community relations for Lee Memorial Health System, said Florida has been ranked around the same number for quite a few years.

“This is kind of where we have been,” she said.

Although Florida has been ranked in the 30s – 30th being the best and 39th being the worst -since the beginning, Jackson believes there is a huge opportunity to improve health in this community – Lee County.

In addition to national rankings, Lee Memorial Health System also collects assessment trend data for Lee County every three years, which can be found on www.healthforecast.net. The last data collected for the assessment was done in 2011. Jackson said they will do it again in 2013.

“It gives you comparison not only to our trend, but compares to Florida and the United States averages and the benchmark,” she said.

Uninsured and behaviors are what contributes to Florida being ranked as the 34th healthiest place in the United States.

“We see that because we have seen significant increases in uninsured,” Jackson said, adding that Florida is one of the highest states in the number who are uninsured.

According to the United Health Foundation, 10 years ago 17.0 percent of the Florida population was uninsured, now it is at 20.2 percent.

Unemployed and low wages that do not provide access to affordable insurance are contributing factors. Jackson said Medicaid also plays into the issue because only the sickest of people who are low income receive the benefits.

“It doesn’t cover healthy adults,” she said of Medicaid.

Individuals who are uninsured are a great concern.

“We are concerned that so many people do not have insurance,” Jackson said. “We know that people without insurance have difficulty of access to care.”

Due to the concern, the Lee Memorial Health System have expanded its services in the last year and a half by providing clinics for the uninsured for the first time. Lee Memorial has paired up with the United Way to provide two houses – one in Dunbar and one in North Fort Myers – with physicians to take care of those in need.

“Hopefully we can expand even more,” Jackson said.

Revenues fund the clinics that Lee Memorial makes on other patient care programs, as well as some state grant dollars.

A survey done in 2010 showed that 82,000 people were using the emergency department for their primary care because of no insurance.

“There are so many people that can’t get primary care because they don’t have health insurance,” Jackson said, adding that it is a life and death situation for Lee County.

The other side of the problem is the risk factors and behaviors.

Smoking is one of the determinants of what individuals are doing causing risks to their health.

“There are far too many smokers in Lee County,” Jackson said, adding that it is never too late to quite smoking. “The damage can significantly be repaired.”

There have been steps made to help individuals stop smoking in Lee County, one of which includes Tobacco Free Lee. This helps in encouraging everyone to stop smoking by having tobacco free workplaces and developing tobacco free campus.

Florida is ranked 16th for smoking.

Binge drinking is another problem for the area. It is ranked 17th.

“For our area, we see a larger percentage of binge drinkers who are in the senior age groups,” Jackson said.

This occurs, she said, because they have more time on their hands to attend social activities where drinking is a part of the event, as well as more time to go to parties and socialize with friends.

Jackson said it is all about someone’s lifestyle choices and what affects it has on their personal health and their longevity.

Obesity is another problem, although Florida as a state is no worse than the rest of the United States ranking 19th, according to the United Health Foundation.

“We are the fattest country in the world,” Jackson said, adding that it is a driving chronic disease that increases the cost in health care.

Jackson said two-thirds of the people are overweight and obese, which has become the norm.

“We as a society accepted that,” she said. “We need to understand what that is doing, take on that challenge to commit to a healthier lifestyle and get off medications that are created by conditions tied to obesity.”

In order to help fight obesity, Healthy Lee Coalition was formed to help engage people in the community. A task force of businesses is working to find ways to provide lifestyle information in the workplace. She said fitness challenges, habitual habits of nutrition and exercise is provided.

From 2007 to 2011, obesity went over six percentage points in Lee County. Jackson said Lee County is going in the wrong direction.

“As a community we need to do more,” she said. “Becoming more physically fit as a choice will allow you to have a longer life.”

On the flip side, Jackson said Lee County actually saw an improvement in the percentage of people who are physically active.

Jackson said health officials want to reverse all the trends because they believe the community can become healthier. Lee Memorial is currently working on a website, www.healthylee.com, to provide a platform for people to get more education material out to the public, as well as providing a source to find out what other people are doing, and what is going on in the community in terms of walks and runs.

The website is expected to be completed shortly after the first of the year.