In this Disneyesque playground, the hot ride is a golf cart, the big game is called pickleball and clubbing has nothing to do with South Beach.
Welcome to The Villages, an 83,000-member community where more than 2.3 million rounds of golf are played yearly, polo draws an audience, bowling is a religion and happy hours bring a smile only if it's 2-for-1.
And, oh yeah, this is adults only, if you don't mind.
| USF News
"This is the busiest bunch of old people you have ever seen," says Donna Grimes, who, with her husband Jerry, have been carving divots on the fairways here since 2004.
And this is where USF Health is planting its flag. It wants to know what makes these active adults tick. Are there ways to improve an aging baby-boomers quality of life? Can a customized health profile, linking physical health and psychic health, benefit individuals?
Partnering with The Villages Health System, USF Health will be conducting studies of residents living in this sprawling central Florida community, which is expected to grow to more than 100,000 residents by 2017. These folks move around their town centers in 50,000 golf carts, belong to a dizzying A-to-Z listing of more than 1,800 clubs and organizations ranging from Acoustic Guitar to Zumba Workouts, and spend leisure time lounging around more than 50 community pools.
The Villages is a melting pot of retirees from all 50 states. As such, information gleaned from a deep dive health study will benefit not only "villagers," but hopefully many of the 77 million baby-boomers in this country sliding into retirement.
Dr. Stephen Klasko, dean of the USF College of Medicine and CEO of USF Health, says the partnership with The Villages is both unique and astounding. When has there ever been the opportunity to study a whole community? The result could be a new model of health care aimed at problem-solving, empowering patients and access to new, clinical treatments.
"This is the coolest thing we have done,'' says Dr. Klasko. "Our goal is to look at health care 10 years from now."
Dr. Elliott Sussman, professor of medicine at USF Health, says the end result of the studies and research is clear: "to develop stuff to help people live longer and healthier." USF Health and The Villages have two years of funding in place for the studies. He expects future studies will be funded through significant grants from various agencies and organizations, along with industry partners.
If we understand health better as we are aging, Dr. Sussman says, the ultimate goal is to assess, develop and implement "the kind of health interventions that improve health and reduce health care costs."
Already known as "Florida's Friendliest Hometown," The Villages now wants to be "America's Healthiest Hometown."
The Villages already boasts an impressive inventory of health care outlets, including a 200-bed hospital, a Veteran's Administration clinic, hospice center and an assisted living facility. Adding USF Health seems a natural fit.
"Our local physicians will benefit greatly from USF's presence," says Lee Huntley, CEO of The Villages Health System. "USF brings additional resources to the community that can only help our dedicated providers in the care they're providing to our patients. This is a great example of how academic physicians and private physicians can work together to identify and implement best practices on behalf of residents and our patients."
More than 1,000 "villagers," as they call themselves, turned out for the May 11 annual meeting, which focused mainly on the new partnership. The community, says Villages spokesman Gary Lester, is extremely inquisitive about what the studies will bring — both in short-term benefits to them and long-term impact for future generations, including their own children and grandchildren.
"These are folks that are very mindful of leaving a legacy, of being a part of history," says Lester.
Jerry Grimes is thrilled to see USF's involvement here. He received a master's degree in vocational rehabilitation from USF in 1973, and has been active in the USF Alumni Association for years. He's often seen wearing Bulls gear on the golf course or driving his golf cart featuring a USF license plate. He's followed with pride USF's recent assent to a major, global research university.
He expects great things from the budding partnership between USF Health and The Villages Health System.
"The more I can learn about who I am health-wise, I'd like to know," he says. "I'm proud that USF is going to be in our community. I think it will bring a lot more visibility to USF looking at gerontology and it could spin off other research."
Jerry and Donna Grimes moved to The Villages in 2004 from Roanoke, Va. It was a home-coming of sorts for Jerry, who went to high school in Orlando. Another factor in choosing The Villages was its proximity to USF — about a 75-minute drive.
The couple marvels at all The Villages has to offer. Its own newspaper, radio station and television station. Live entertainment at the town squares nightly, often involving retro bands from the '60s and '70s. If you want to try a sporting activity, like, say, archery or kayaking, it's offered. Same goes for clubs and organizations.
The Villages continues to expand, even in a down economy. More than 2,200 homes were sold in 2010, and that number could be surpassed this year. New residents move in nearly daily. The community covers 40 square miles in three counties: Lake, Marion and Sumter.
The Grimes's live smack dab in the middle. Just the way they like it.
"Even though there are 80,000 people here, it still feels like a small town," says Jerry Grimes, 63.
Donna Grimes, 65, says each day brings new opportunities, from sports, to clubs, to courses at the life-long learning college.
"There is just no place like this," Donna Grimes says. "It's Disneyland for adults."