TAMPA — The University of South Florida said Tuesday it plans to deploy doctors and public health researchers to the Villages retirement community with the goal of creating "America's healthiest hometown."
The announcement of a partnership between the university and the community of more than 80,000 retirees an hour north of Orlando comes as USF's medical school seeks to build its reputation by extending its reach beyond Tampa Bay.
This spring, USF is kicking off the initiative with a study on the health of residents of the Villages. Researchers plan to examine a variety of indicators, such as the incidence of diabetes and how residents view their own health.
USF aims to use that information to recommend improvements, such as urging restaurants to serve healthier meals or sending in more specialists to care for residents with heart disease.
"Our goal will be to prove that because of the interventions we've done … that we're making folks live longer and happier," said Dr. Stephen Klasko, dean of USF's medical school.
Within the next few months, USF will open a small office in the Villages. The university's initial plans do not include running its own full medical clinic there. But USF physicians will engage the community through educational seminars and by participating in medical rounds with local physicians at area hospitals.
Both USF and the Villages are committing resources to the venture, officials said. Organizers hope to secure federal and private grant funding for what they envision as a long-term population health study.
"It has potential implications and applications for really the entire country — the Medicare population that we talk about, all of the elderly — in terms of how do you stay healthy as you age," said Dr. Elliot Sussman, a consultant working for the Villages and a professor of medicine at USF.
Collaborations between "leading academic medical centers like USF Health and communities like the Villages are essential to developing new models of care and leading the changes that will improve our nation's health," Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, said in a statement.
Building a partnership with residents is critical to improving overall health, said Donna Petersen, dean of the USF College of Public Health.
"To move a community's health status forward, they have to be involved," she said.
Letitia Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3322.