Collier, Lee among Florida’s healthiest counties

Affluent St. Johns and Collier counties remain Florida’s healthiest communities, while the rural regions continue to suffer some of the highest rates of mental illness, substance abuse, and premature death, a new report finds.

Lee County ranks fairly high — now in 12th place in Florida — and is up from 20th place just two years ago, according to the 2017 County Health Rankings from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The annual report assesses U.S. counties based on their economic health, crime, premature deaths, health insurance coverage, medical resources and a number of behavioral factors, such as smoking and drinking rates.

“We still have work to do in this community,” said Mary Andrews, who helps oversee community health initiatives for the Lee Health hospital system in Lee County. “But this type of information helps us design the types of plans that will be the most effective.”

Union County, home to about 16,000 residents and a maximum security prison, ranked last in Florida.

Some report highlights about Southwest Florida:

  • About 15 percent of Lee and Collier residents reported they were in “poor” or “fair” health. Florida’s overall rate is 17 percent.
  • Rates of obesity in Lee and Collier were 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Statewide, it’s 26 percent.
  • About 13 percent of Collier County adults smoke, and 16 percent do in Lee County. About 15 percent of all Florida adults still smoke.

The Healthy Lee initiative, a decade-old project to promote healthy living in Lee County, will produce its own report on the community’s health this summer.

While Lee County’s rankings have moved around year to year, Collier’s have consistently ranked high. It also earned the nation’s top spot in the Gallup-Healthways “well-being index.”

“It’s no surprise that Collier remains one of the healthiest counties to live in Florida,” said Stephanie Vick, administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Collier County, in a written statement. “We enjoy great weather year-round, have access to beautiful beaches and parks, have a robust health care system, opportunities to participate in community-wide health initiatives, enjoy low crime rates, and our children attend a healthy school system.”

Affluence is generally a good predictor of a community’s health ranking.  St. Johns and Collier counties have the highest median incomes in the state: $71,896 and $62,385, respectively.

While Union County’s median household income rate of $41,078 isn’t the lowest in Florida, it is below the state average.

But such lists can also overshadow a community’s deficiencies. For instance, about 26 percent of Collier County residents under 65 were uninsured in 2014 — the sixth highest rate in Florida.

“Sometimes a high-ranking county can kind of mask what’s going on,” said Kate Konkle, an associate researcher at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. “Not everyone in the county may be feeling like that’s an accurate picture of what they’re experiencing.”

This year, the report took a deeper look at deaths among people younger than 75. Drug overdoses, particularly among opioid abusers, are behind a “dramatic increase” in deaths among 15- to 44-year-olds in recent years, the report found.

Experts had assumed this was predominantly a problem in small, rural areas, Konkle said.

“And it certainly is, but what our researchers found was that, actually, the suburban counties went from the lowest rates of premature deaths due to overdoses to the highest within a decade,” she said. “I think many of us were surprised to see that.”

The highest rates of drug overdose deaths in Florida were in Dixie (31 per 100,000 residents) and Manatee (29 per 100,000 residents) counties. Lee and Collier’s rates were 13 and 12 per 100,000 residents, respectively.

Forty-six Florida counties saw overall improvements in premature death rates, including Lee and Collier. Two, Citrus and Gilchrist, saw worsening rates.

Housing Starts Up In Fort Myers/Naples Area

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Builders started construction on 818 houses in the Naples/Fort Myers housing market in the first quarter of 2014, up 21 percent from a year earlier, according to a report by Metrostudy, a national provider of housing data.

“Finished, vacant home supply continues to be virtually non-existent,” said David Cobb, Metrostudy’s Regional Director in the Naples Market. “Lee County has only a 0.7 month’s supply, while Collier remains below equilibrium as well at 1.7 months of supply. As in the previous quarter, this is a reflection that almost every home under construction has been sold.”

In Lee County, there were 381 lot deliveries in the first quarter, up 29 percent from a year earlier.

The county has 6,902 vacant developed lots, down 5 percent from a year earlier, according to the report.

In addition to the developed lots, there are plans for 48,012 future lots. Many of these lots lie in the northern and eastern sections of the county, where development has been slow to recover.

Collier County housing starts rose 36 percent in the first quarter to 1,624. The annual starts rate has risen for 19 consecutive quarters, from a low of 399 in early 2009, the report states.

“Builders report that the labor market remains tight, which in some cases is limiting the supply of new homes,” said Cobb. “The supply of vacant, developed lots declined 9 percent year over year to 4,496.”

Today’s Closets Are Anything But…

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More than 100 years ago a hook on the back of the door was all a person usually needed for their clothes. When closets first came in fashion at the beginning of the 20th century they were just little recesses in the wall.

These reach-in closets were about 3 feet deep, 4 feet wide and were composed of only a rod and a shelf above. The last two decades of the century came with a new trend in walk-in closets; a simple narrow space with clothes hanging on either side.

About a decade ago his-and-her walk in closets became the popular trend. Those closets still were simply a place to hang clothes and maybe a few shelves.

That’s now changed in Southwest Florida’s upscale homes, where closets are now almost as large as a room. These closets feature built-in cabinets with everything from drawers and shelves to specialty items.

“Closets are one of the new big things,” said Rob Woods, vice president of Michelangelo Custom Homes. “The well-heeled buyer does not want to feel cramped, especially the women, but now even the men.”

That’s why the closets in the Michelangelo Maison Coco model stretch most of the length of the hallway outside of the bedroom and are quite spacious inside.

The closet in London Bay’s Brighton model in Quail West is one of the most deluxe around. Along with shelves, drawers and hanging areas around the entire room, there is also an island with more drawers and shelves below and a huge countertop. There are three closets with mirrored fronts that pull out to form a three-way mirror. It has a pullout ironing board and even a window bench for relaxing.

“Our people just have a lot of clothes,” real estate agent Teri Speech said about her clients. “They are wealthy people. They would rather have a big separate closet than to transport everything.”

It’s not just single-family homes showcasing all the extra closet space. In the Aqua condos in North Naples, the closets are also like entire rooms.

“Luckily our wardrobe down here does not require four changes of seasons,” It’s shorts and golf attire, said Darline Hillard, director of sales for Aqua. “But they still want their closet space.”

Michael Hawkins, co-owner of EBL, a North Naples based business, says customers use their closets for more than storage and a place to put clothes.

“We’re seeing that more and more, people want it as a dressing room,” Hawkins explained.

While the trend started with homes in the $1 million-plus range, now homes around Lee and Collier counties that are far below that price are highlighting the extra closet space.

“There’s a big demand for closet space. This is one of the biggest closets for the size of the house,” said Diana Ibarria, senior vice president of the Naples division of CC Devco Homes, as she showed off a model home at Maple Ridge in Ave Maria.

Builders give a variety of reasons for the need for closet space. Some say the lack of basements and attics makes more storage areas a must, while others believe that people are just buying more clothes.

“His-and-her closets are a must these days,” said Jason Tracey of Tracey Quality Building in Cape Coral. In Florida you don’t have anywhere to store things. I get a lot of requests to make the bedroom a little smaller and the closets a little bigger.”

“We’re all buying more things. The master suite has larger closets,” added Dan Dodrill of Daniel Wayne Homes as he showed off his model in Horse Creek in Buckingham.

Even the interior design of these giant closets has changed from a shelf and rod to complete custom cubbies, shelves, shoe areasand more. Experts say it’s all part of their customer’s desire for better organization and an elegant space to dress each morning.

“We had to enlarge houses because people want bigger closets,” said David Gydosh, owner of Tundra Homes.