Montgomery County health planners have found that the county's high rate of teen and adult alcoholism and the poor eating habits of its residents are Montgomery's priority health problems, according to a detailed health systems plan released yesterday.
The county's plan was designed to identify the needs of Montgomery's predominantly wealthy and well-educated population, and also to determine how the local, state and federal health care funds should be spent over the next five years.
In the course of their study, the planners also noted that Montgomery already enjoys a somewhat unique advantage over other area jurisdictions with respect to its health care services - there are 1,936 practicing licensed physicians in the county, or one doctor per 301 residents
This represents a higher percentage of physicians per capita than any other Maryland county or any of the other Washington suburbs. The national norm is one doctor per 763 persons.
But even though the county has a disproportionately high number of doctors and health care is available to most county residents, the report emphasizes that services nonetheless are still lacking for the elderly, indigent and handicapped and recommends that the needs of these segments of the population also receive high priority.
Although there is a general over-supply of hospital beds in the county, there is a growing shortage of beds for psychiatric patients, according to the plan, which calls for the addition of 25 more beds for county psychiatric patients. There are now 116 beds available for psychiatric patients in the county.
In selecting nutrition and alcohalism as key areas of concern, the county's health planners said they were looking for problem areas where improved health services and health care education could make an immediate impact.
Hameed Naz, director of the county's Health Systems Agency that drew up the five-year plan, said that nutrition education is of particular concern in Montgomery where both husband and wife work in most households and may not have time to eat properly or prepare proper meals for their children.
The plan calls for instituting a half-credit requirement in health education for all students who graduate from county high schools and adding to the curriculum in nutrition education in elementary and junior high schools.
The Health Systems Agency also is planning to ask the county Board of Education to limit the sale of ice cream and "junk food" snacks in schools and replace them with fruits and low sugar foods.
To deal with the county's adult alcoholism problems, the agency plans to work toward increasing the number of alcolism treatment programs for employes in both the public and private sectors. A recent study by the Suburban Maryland Alcoholism Council estimates the number of alcoholics in the county at about 43,000, while the number of "problem drinkers" is about 45,000 - or 7.7 percent of the population.
In 1976, alcohol was a factor in one-third of all homicides in the county, in 1,052 traffic violations and in seven suicides.
Improving alcohol education in the schools also is a major priority in the new plan. More than 6,500 youngsters between the ages of 15 and 19 - almost 13 percent of the total youth population in the county - have "serious alcohol-related problems," according to a recent community study cited in the health plan.
The plan also calls for additional teacher training in alcohol abuse education.
In keeping with national trends, the plan also provides for the upgrading and promotion of preventive health care. The health systems agency intends to encourage private insurance companies to reimburse policyholders for preventive medical treatment.
Another objective is to seek state wide legislation that would increase Medicaid reimbursements to nursing homes.Although there currently is no shortage of nursing home beds in the county, many homes are reluctant to accept Medicaid patients because of low reimbursements.