The Untold Stories of The Villages

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STORY: Leigh Neely+James Combs+Theresa Campbell+Debbi Kiddy  PHOTOS: Fred Lopez

The Villages has been lauded as Disneyland for seniors. Though the landscaping stays beautiful, the bluebirds aren’t always singing, and the path definitely gets rocky. Some stories just don’t fit the “happily ever after” of fairy tales.

Elderly Suicide

A Widespread Problem

The Villages is a great place to live and be happy, but those who deal with depression may see it differently. Depression is a widespread problem among elderly individuals. Elderly is defined as persons over the age of 65. This depression can come from a variety of sources, including loneliness, side effects of medication, or even as a normal part of aging and the stressors that includes.

In Lake County, suicide among this age group has increased significantly since 2007, according to the Florida Department of Health. It’s the ninth leading cause of death for those 65+ in the state, and white men have the highest risk, with white men over 85 at the greatest risk among all ages and genders.

According to Ashleigh Husbands, regional suicide prevention specialist for Linking Individuals Needing Care, elderly persons have the most risk of suicide. FloridaCharts.com lists the death rate for the elderly by suicide in Lake County at 26.7 per 100,000 in the population in 2014, and Sumter County was 16.3.

“The most effective way to prevent suicide is education,” Ashleigh says. “It’s important that everyone—caregivers, health care workers, family members—know how to intervene, how to ask questions, and know the signs.”

Often undiagnosed, symptoms of depression in the elderly are very different from what’s seen in younger persons. Where elements of mood and behavior play key roles in diagnosing young people, with the elderly, it’s insomnia, anorexia, and fatigue. Many older adults believe the symptoms are part of the aging process, but if depression is left untreated, it impacts quality of life, adds to health problems, and causes loss of functions.

As part of her job, Ashleigh speaks to clubs and organizations about suicide prevention. “At this time, we specifically target ages 10-24, but our overall mission is to help anyone at risk for suicide.”

Education could aid in reducing these numbers—for the elderly and the family or health care workers who care for them. Getting an older person to discuss feelings and identify emotions is difficult many times, which adds to the depression. Most will talk to the primary care physician, but refuse psychological counseling. It’s estimated that as many as 80 percent of elderly persons who commit suicide visited their doctor the month before their death.


Senior Sex

Looking for love in all the (wrong) places

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A few Villages residents were arrested for having sex in golf carts, on town squares, and even on a utility box in recent years, generating a national buzz because it didn’t fit the perceived stereotype of seniors living in a retirement community.

It may not be an amusement park, but a Villages employer once offered this view: “It’s really a college town for seniors.”

The social life college students enjoy in their 20s continues for some boomers in their 60s as The Villages offers nightly entertainment, happy hour, dancing on three town squares, and a plethora of clubs and activities for people to meet, including a variety of singles clubs.

There are those who may feel it’s OK to be carefree and sexually active in the senior years, but the Florida Department of Health in Lake County encourages seniors to use protection—just as the rest of the population is advised.

“Although they no longer have the risk of pregnancy, the risk of STD (sexually transmitted diseases) remains,” Noelda Lopez, public information specialist for the department, says.

She reported the health department’s latest statistics of local STD cases: Among seniors ages 55 to 65: chlamydia, 5; syphilis, 3; gonorrhea, 2; and the number of STD cases in seniors, 65 to 100: chlamydia, 5; syphilis, 3; gonorrhea, 2.

Though these numbers are not alarming, the health department offers the following advice for women and men who choose to be sexually active in their older years:

• Use condoms

• Don’t have multiple sex partners (reduce numbers of sex partners)

• Always protect yourself

Dr. Mary Anne Horne, a former counselor and university professor who lives in The Villages, says it’s vital for seniors to practice safe sex.

“We are never immune in taking care of ourselves, being responsible, and having self-respect,” she says. “Always start with self-respect and that means starting with self-care and being responsible for your own health.”

She encourages seniors who want to be sexually active to have a sex talk with their doctors.

“We have to be our own parents at this point, and we have to responsible for ourselves, and we are never too old to ask for help and to get the answers that we need,” Dr. Horne says. “Reach out to the people who are the health professionals. Ask the right questions.”

Doctors can provide answers about practicing safe sex, and the Florida Department of Health of Lake County noted its health clinics throughout the county offer female and male condoms free of charge—all aimed at reducing the risk of STD.


Water

Not in our backyard

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SWR Properties of Ocala, also known as Spring Water Resources, was granted a permit in June from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) to pump water from a Sumter County aquifer, yet it generated outcry from hundreds of residents of The Villages.

Numerous emails and letters from Villagers opposing the project were sent to the water management district, and a standing-room-only crowd of Villagers against the pumping packed a recent Sumter County Commission meeting.

The opponents are against SRW Properties’ state permit allowing them to pump 496,000 gallons of water a day for 20 years from the two springs. SWR owns about 10 acres southeast of the intersection of County Road 470 and State Road 301, northeast of Bushnell, site of Fern Spring and Heart Spring. SWR Properties bought the parcel in 2012.

In the company’s permit application, it was noted the water would be sold to Azure Water, which has a 15,000-square-foot bottled water co-packing operation in Leesburg. Azure currently supplies bottled spring water from the Heatherwood Spring, part of the Crystal Springs Complex in West Central Florida.

Ally Stewart, president of Azure Water, says there is “a lot of misinformation” regarding her company being connected or partnering with SWR.

“We don’t even know how we got involved, but I think in their business plan they mentioned us,” she says, adding her company has not attended any business meetings with SWR. “And the authorities from water management have never talked to us or asked us any questions about the business plan they received.”

She says it’s “normal practice” in the industry to help companies receive renewals or new permits by providing a letter of intent. “It’s not a sales contract and nothing is binding.”

“We are not interested in that water,” Ally says of the water from the Sumter County springs. She’s pleased with the water her company receives from Crystal River Springs Complex, calling it “the best water” with naturally alkaline pH8.3. “It’s such good water, we have no need for any other water—we have our own water.”

However, Villagers’ water concerns about the Sumter springs northeast of Bushnell are still being addressed. Some residents raised questions at the Sumter County Commission meeting about  whether the SWR project could lead to sinkholes and low water levels of ponds.

Vivian Bielski, senior project geologist the Andreyev Engineering of St. Petersburg, wrote in her filing with the state Water Use Permit Bureau that it was “very reasonable to assume there will be no effect from this proposed withdrawal on The Villages development area.”

However, the water management district is granting an administrative hearing on the case after two Villagers made a “timely and substantial” request for a hearing by the state Division of Administrative Hearings, similar to an appeals process. If the Villagers are successful, SWR’s permit approval could be overturned.


Sinkholes

The dirty truth

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The word sinkhole is second only to hurricane in evoking fear in homeowners in Florida. They are documented all over central Florida, even in the paradise of The Villages, which means it’s important to be informed before you buy a home.

In June 2012, a sinkhole opened up that was 18 feet deep and 12 feet wide in the Village of Belvedere, and in April 2014, a sinkhole 50 feet deep developed between two houses in the Village of Buttonwood.

According to the Department of Financial Services, Florida law defines a sinkhole as “a land form created by subsidence of soil, sediment, or rock as underlying strata are dissolved by groundwater. A sinkhole may form by collapse into subterranean voids created by the dissolving of limestone or dolostone or by the subsidence as these strata are dissolved.”

In simpler terms, a huge hole can open up beneath your home. What does this mean for homeowners in The Villages?

It can definitely affect homeowners insurance There are two types of sinkhole coverage in Florida. The first type—known as catastrophic ground collapse (CGC)—is required by the state. The policy says if your home is deemed unsafe for habitation, you are covered under your normal policy with your regular deductible

The second type of coverage is comprehensive and not required for insurance companies to offer. It covers structural damage, but it may add as much as $200 to $600 to your annual premium. If a claim is made, it costs you a percentage of your Limit-A coverage, depending on the policy. This coverage may be difficult to get if the home is more than five years old. Be sure to check with your agent to ensure you are covered through your homeowner’s insurance or with a rider.

Adam Thielen of Farmer’s Bureau, Lake County says his company is still writing comprehensive policies. “It all really depends on your address,” Adam says.

An agent will check to see what, if any, sinkhole activity has occurred on the property, and other factors may determine what your rate would be. Adam says you can get coverage for as little as $20 annually. If you are buying a home, be sure it is insurable, and ask for details regarding coverage and deductibles. It may help to have an engineer who specializes in sinkholes inspect your property before purchase. You will pay for this inspection.

Mark Santo-Domingo, who is with The CrowneGroup Insurance, says, “I do not have comprehensive coverage on my home. The likelihood of your basic coverage not being sufficient is very small.”

Florida law regarding sinkholes has recently been amended. Senator Jack Latvala (R- Clearwater) sponsored and passed Bill SB 1274, which allows insurance companies to offer homeowners protection for sinkhole damage considered less than catastrophic. This has been an evolutionary law, with changes being made in 2005, 2007, 2011, and this past July. The revisions are focused on what must be covered—such as whether it’s land and building, and if it includes the foundation or not.

John Dye, Sr., a geologist for Windermere Engineering Services, studies sinkholes all over Central Florida, and he says, “A possible downside of the new legislation is that insurers would not be required to stabilize the land under the terms of the limited coverage, potentially resulting in the building being only temporarily stabilized, as the underlying sinkhole activity would not have been remediated.”

What this means to homebuyers is the home you’re looking at may have had work done for structural damage but not for the land beneath. The building could still be sitting atop a possible sinkhole.

Going for the more expensive coverage depends on your ability to manage risk and cost. However, do you homework before buying a home. Talk with Realtors, the seller, neighbors, and maybe even consult an engineer.

The extra cost could be priceless for the peace of mind.


Contractors

Slam the door on scams

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Problems with crooked contractors continue plaguing residents of The Villages and surrounding communities. Contractors come in and promise the world but end up leaving behind a slimy trail of fraud and poor workmanship. Because homeowners pay for the work up front, they end up being left high and dry with unfinished roofs, unrepaired air conditioning units, and uninstalled home security systems, among other things.

In August, a 39-year-old air conditioning contractor was charged with ripping off two homeowners in The Villages. He promised to install new air conditioning units in their homes and collected advance payments for $1,700 and $1,300. Sadly, he did not even have a contractor’s license. Also, two unlicensed tree removal contractors let a palm tree fall into power lines causing a power outage on a steamy summer day. In addition, motorists watching the activity on the side of the road were involved in a traffic accident. Tree workers can get less expensive permits if their work meets the standards set by the town of Lady Lake.

Stories like these are hardly surprising to Bryan Lifsey, office manager of Sumter County’s Seniors vs. Crime unit.

“We receive anywhere from 100 to 150 calls each year regarding crooked contractors,” he says. “Some of the more common complaints include building new lanais, doing home repairs, and paving driveways. However, the most notorious scam we hear about is air conditioning tune-ups and repairs.”

Unfortunately, elderly people make easy targets.

“Seniors are very proud of their homes and property and want them to look as nice as possible. Therefore, when a contractor says he can improve a home, older people are very enticed. Plus, elderly people have lots of time and enough money to pay the bills, which is very important to scam artists,” he says.

Lifsey cautions people to consider red flags before signing a contract.

“Be wary of anyone who wants to be paid in cash, wants a large deposit up front, or asks you to make a check out to them personally instead of the company,” he says. “Also, be suspicious of anyone who will not show you their license, workers’ comp, and liability insurance cards. Finally, any contractor who is reluctant to put a start and end date in the contract should be avoided.”


 

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