There are many ways to tell the quality of life a person has lived: the smile lines they gather, the company they keep, the things they possess, or the community they have impacted. The two honored with this year’s Lifetime Achievement Awards, Sandy Stilwell Youngquist and Mike Ellis, are recognized for the last.
Champions of Southwest Florida’s most prominent industries, health care and hospitality, this duo has developed the region through their sharp leadership skills, empowerment of others and belief in the area’s potential.
Ellis, president and CEO of Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida, strives to make quality care accessible for all, currently by leading the efforts to open an $18 million medical complex in an underserved Collier County community.
Stilwell Youngquist, CEO and owner of Stilwell Enterprises & Restaurant Group, has developed a series of Southwest Florida businesses, particularly on Captiva Island, for tourists and residents to enjoy. Throughout her career, she’s also devoted countless time to some of Southwest Florida’s biggest charitable causes.
Please join us in celebrating these two Southwest Florida leaders for their continued contributions to our community.
Quality Care Leader
Mike Ellis leads efforts to widen health care affordability and accessibility.
As Mike Ellis, president and CEO of Healthcare Network of SWFL (HCN), prepares for the spring 2020 opening of Nichols Community Health Center, the not-for-profit organization’s new 50,000-square-foot primary health care facility in the heart of Golden Gate, he reflects on how he has gotten here.
“At this point in my life, I define success and the thing that really makes me feel best as looking back and knowing that I helped thousands of people receive good-quality health care,” he says.
Ellis has made major contributions to HCN since joining in 2013, after serving seven years as executive director of what is now known as Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and for 15 years in various community and migrant health centers.
“Our services have grown; the patient population we can reach under his leadership has grown; we’ve opened new sites, served more patients and developed programs we didn’t have,” says Dr. Emily Ptaszek, COO of Healthcare Network and Ellis’ close colleague.
The practice comprises 51,000 patients and 360 employees and now serves about 70 percent of the children in Collier County through its medical or dental programs. HCN doctors also deliver more than 40 percent of the babies in Collier County.
Ellis has done much to enhance children’s services, including pediatric dental care—even offering oral services to children with special needs who require sedation. “We’re really the only people between Miami and St. Petersburg who have done that,” Ellis says.
But perhaps the CEO’s best-known contribution: his insistence that his patients’ mental health get the same attention as their physical health. HCN has fully embraced a philosophy known as “integrated health,” marrying the care of body and brain. The practice has embedded psychologists in all of its primary care practices, both pediatric and adult, a novel approach to care in Southwest Florida. Seeking further reach, Ellis and his team have collaborated with organizations such as the Naples Children & Education Foundation, National Alliance on Mental Illness, David Lawrence Center and Florida State University College of Medicine to develop additional services and monitor community need.
“[Ellis] has had an impact on the mental health conversation in particular,” Ptaszek says. “There are numerous community leaders who are having an impact on that, but he is one of them.”
Collaboration has always been key to Ellis, a former member of the Lee Memorial Health System board of directors. “I think in order to have a successful community health center that offers good primary care and services, you have to collaborate with all other health entities as well as service entities throughout the county,” he says.
With the partnerships he’s made, Ellis is excited to reach even more patients with Nichols Community Health Center, which will offer full primary and dental care services for adults and children, women’s and senior care, integrated behavioral health, and pharmacy and X-ray services. “The need in Golden Gate is huge,” he says. “They have about 50,000 residents—about 12,000 of those are children.”
In the last 20 years or so, Golden Gate has also become a lower-income neighborhood, Ellis adds. Everyone is welcome to seek care through HCN, but the private organization particularly cares for Medicaid or uninsured patients. Ellis has always had a heart for the underserved.
“I started off my hospital career at St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio, which was an inner-city hospital, and my whole career has been focused on vulnerable populations, whether it’s children, elderly or low-income,” he says. “To some degree, I get great satisfaction over serving that population and making people’s lives better.” It’s one thing to have the desire to make a difference, but it’s another to be able to put others on a path to make it happen. Ptaszek attests to Ellis’s ability to do that.
“He believes in people, he communicates with them, and he gives them space and time to do the things they are experts at,” Ptaszek says. “If he wasn’t this way, I’m not sure all of these things [with HCN] would have been able to happen the way they have happened.”
“I like motivating people,” Ellis says. It’s the ultimate reason the Ohio native chose to pursue hospital administration. Previously, he’d worked for about a decade in a coroner’s office while obtaining his undergraduate degree in biology (University of Cincinnati) and master’s degrees in clinical chemistry (University of Dayton) and hospital and health administration (Xavier University in Cincinnati). He was originally recruited to a nursing home job in Southwest Florida after working in a Jacksonville, Florida, hospital.
Ellis plans to keep facilitating change by staying active in the community once he’s ready for retirement, though it’s difficult for the man of many interests (throughout his career he’s managed to become a dive master, obtain a captain’s license from the U.S. Coast Guard and earn two black belts in martial arts) to know exactly what that will look like.
“What’s the next chapter? I don’t know, but it ought to be interesting,” he says.
What is without question, however, is the wider scope and access to quality health care that he’ll leave in his wake.
Hospitality and Heart
Sandy Stilwell Youngquist connects community and charitable efforts.
Here is the thing about Sandy Stilwell Youngquist: It’s impossible to list all of the professional and philanthropic accomplishments she’s packed into her life, so we’ll
start with her two biggest, transforming the tip of Captiva Island into a tourist hub and helping raise more than $18 million toward the creation of the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.
Stilwell Youngquist is the founder of Stilwell Enterprises & Restaurant Group and the developer of some of Southwest Florida’s mainstay restaurants and inns.
She’s been establishing businesses ever since she was 17 and launched a commercial cleaning business with a partner. By the time she was 23, she’d co-owned (along with her family) and then sold the SandCastle Inn on Fort Myers Beach.
Stilwell Youngquist moved to the area at age 2. She remembers what life was like here in those days.“You can’t imagine Cape Coral back then,” she says. “There were more alligators than people. We were the 16th family to move here.”
But Stilwell Youngquist knew this region would always be home, even if she had to develop areas herself.
“I love Southwest Florida and being a part of a community where I grew up,” she says.
Now, you can’t cross into sunny Captiva Island from Sanibel without encountering one of Stilwell Youngquist’s many attractions. She has multiple restaurants within walking distance of each other, plus Captiva Island Inn, the first business she purchased on the island in February 1999.
“This little inn, when I bought it, had six rooms,” she says, but it was charming and located in a place she loved. “I couldn’t believe it, finally driving over the bridge like, ‘I really own a place out here.’”
She has since expanded the whimsical hotel to 16 cottages, plus two five-bedroom homes. The rest of the businesses followed organically, with Stilwell Youngquist’s education from Cornell University’s hospitality program coming in handy along the way. Really, she started filling voids on Captiva where she saw them.
“I started looking at the need,” Stilwell Youngquist says. She opened Cantina Captiva because the island lacked a Mexican restaurant and sold books at Latte Da Coffee & Gift Shop when the town had just a library.
Stilwell Youngquist has approached philanthropy the same way, embracing causes as varied as end-of-life care with Hope Hospice, to children’s health with SWFL Children’s Charities and its affiliated Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, to affordable housing with Habitat for Humanity. She also has a personal fund through the Southwest Florida Community Foundation to help fight hunger.
A frequent figure at philanthropic events, Stilwell Youngquist has a track record of lending a helping hand wherever needed.
Twenty-six years ago, she served as president and on the construction committee of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southwest Florida, and about five years ago as president of PACE Center for Girls, Lee County.
Under her leadership, PACE moved to a new school that was 100 percent paid for in its first year. “It’s amazing how many girls we have helped that were struggling, and now they are living successful lives,” she says. “Ninety-five percent of the girls [at PACE] go on to live their lives without ever getting back into the juvenile justice system.”
At PACE, Stilwell Youngquist became close with 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award winner Gail Markham, owner of Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Co. P.A. and co-founder of the Lee County branch of the organization.
Stilwell Youngquist succeeded Markham as PACE chair more than a year sooner than she expected, Markham says. The hefty task might have thrown others through a loop, but Stilwell Youngquist took it on in stride.
“It was a huge responsibility for her, but she did it,” Markham says. “She is just always composed, positive and responsive. I admire her for that.”
It’s important for Stilwell Youngquist to be a part of the community’s moral fiber. “I grew up here, and I feel it is a responsibility to give back,” she says.
Stilwell Youngquist’s mentors and past business partners, James and Ellie Newton, taught her those very fundamentals, she says.
James, a Fort Myers Beach entrepreneur, wrote the book Uncommon Friends: Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel & Charles Lindberg, based on his experiences with them.
“He taught me so many things that reconfirmed what my parents had told me, but from a friend’s perspective,” Stilwell Youngquist says. “He kind of set me on that path.”
Stilwell Youngquist now offers assistance to future leaders through her involvement on Hodges University’s Board of Trustees and Executive Committee and Florida Gulf Coast University’s School of Resort & Hospitality Management.
She has also prepped her two boys for success. The two have endeavors of their own outside of Southwest Florida, and she’s shown them firsthand what can happen with a little courage and conviction. “My parents didn’t hold my hand a lot. They would give me the ability and cut me loose and let me sink or swim,” she says. “I would like to pay it forward, and hopefully that tradition—which started with my grandparents—will continue on for generations and generations.”