Your report on the health status of Hispanic Americans {Public Health, Jan. 15} painted a bleak picture. The situation is particularly acute among older Hispanics, who constitute the fastest-growing group of Americans 65 and older.

According to U.S. Census Bureau projections, by the year 2040 the number of older Hispanics will increase 600 percent. That is four times the increase expected among the older population overall. Older Hispanics are poorer, live in worse conditions and get less health care than the aging population as a whole.

The National Institute on Aging is planning a study that would for the first time provide information on disease and disability in this group. With such evidence as utilization rates of health services and the extent of support networks for long-term care needs, policymakers may be able to recommend ways to help solve some of the health problems of older Hispanics. T. Franklin Williams, MD Director National Institute on Aging Bethesda

Plight of the Homeless

Resident psychiatrist Keith Russell Ablow's recent description of his encounter with a patient who was "homeless but not mentally ill" {Psychology, Jan. 22} points up once again the semantics of mental health and illness.

The man he discusses -- homeless, jobless, divorced and on an alcohol binge of a month's duration -- cannot be admitted to the hospital because, among other reasons, he denies having thought of "hurting himself" over his many losses. What, one wonders, is a four-week alcohol bout, and subsequent exposure to potentially lethal winter elements, if not "hurting oneself"?

The man, Ablow states, is taking "no medication for emotional problems." What is alcohol, which he states the patient was taking "to forget," if not a self-prescribed medication for emotional problems? S.A. Spitz Bethesda

In his account of his evaluation of this difficult case, Dr. Ablow seems to have overlooked a diagnosis that would have accounted for the symptoms he described and which would have provided him with a number of options for immediate help for the patient. The facts he presented about this person were all possible symptoms of the disease of alcoholism; collectively, they present an almost overwhelming case for such a diagnosis.

Had he diagnosed the patient as a middle or late-stage alcoholic, seeking assistance ("I need to be in a hospital, I have to get a handle on myself"), he could have admitted him to the hospital for detoxification or another alcohol-related problem; contacted a public, private or Veterans Administration alcoholism treatment center and had him admitted to a 28-day treatment program; or called the Alcoholics Anonymous 24-hour hotline for assistance. James E. McCleaf Leonardtown, Md.

Letters intended for publication must be signed and include the writer's home address and home and business telephone numbers. Letters may be edited. Although we are unable to acknowledge all letters, we appreciate the time and value the viewpoints of those who write. Send letters to Health Section, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Corrections

Last week's cover story incorrectly described the poet Randall Jarrell's military experience during World War II. He helped train bomber pilots for the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Due to an editing error, a story about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program {Consumer News, Jan. 29} incorrectly said that diphtheria is also called whooping cough. Pertussis is known as whooping cough.