ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County health officials released a plan to improve residents’ health over the next six years.
The Healthy Montgomery 2023 plan, released on Sept. 24, provides goals for improving health outcomes such as infant mortality, chronic disease, infectious disease and injuries, according to the report.
“Healthy Montgomery 2023 establishes county-specific benchmarked goals to monitor progress and identify future goals,” the county wrote. “The goals are evaluated and updated every three years and encourage collaboration across communities and sectors, empower individuals toward making informed health decisions, and measure the impact of prevention activities.”
Healthy Montgomery has been monitoring population health since 2009. According to the county, the program was born out of a meeting held in June 2008, which brought together organizations that provide residents with health services. They originally evaluated how the public health system delivers health services to the community.
Attendees of the meeting worked together to assess how well the county met ten essential health functions outlined by the National Public Health Performance Standards Program within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“In developing and implementing improvement strategies, Healthy Montgomery works with community groups and local experts and investigates ‘best-practice’ strategies and techniques developed by other related undertakings, including an examination of the community health improvement tools and techniques that have demonstrated success in other parts of the country,” the report said. “Healthy Montgomery assures accountability by identifying and using performance indicators that measure progress toward achieving its goals and data sources that track the quality and quantity of human services and the impact on health outcomes.”
In 2011, the Healthy Montgomery Steering Committee (HMSC) chose six categories to organize their research and recommendations for broad action and two for immediate action, according to the county. Some of the categories include behavioral health and obesity, along with cancer, cardiovascular health and diabetes, among others.
To narrow the number of categories, the county held community conversations around the county so that residents could provide their input on how to prioritize the categories.
“Healthy Montgomery is an ongoing process that includes periodic needs assessment, development and implementation of improvement plans and monitoring of the resulting achievements. The process is dynamic, thus giving the County and its community partners the ability to monitor and act on the changing conditions affecting the health and well-being of County residents,” the county wrote.
Dr. Travis Gayles, chief of Public Health Services for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), explained that one health outcome in which the county is still below average is the occurrence of tuberculosis.
“Tuberculosis is an area where our overall number of cases is higher than the state rates. This is not a new problem, but something we have continued to work in addressing,” Gayles said. “The high number can be tied in some way to a high number of immigrants who migrate from countries where tuberculosis is endemic.”
According to Gayles, the county has extensive services available to address the issue, like screening and testing, along with staff who work closely with patients to ensure that medication is taken properly. Tuberculosis is a special case when it comes to proper treatment, because medication regimens can take months to complete.
He explained that staff often use video-based services along with traditional observation to ensure that patients are taking their medicines properly.
“This represents an area that we are working (in) to aggressively address through increased public awareness, education and outreach, and access to care services. It is important to note that funding for tuberculosis services has been cut significantly from the federal level over the past five years,” he said.
Gayles explained that there are several reasons why health disparities exist in the county, including demographic factors such as age, race, and gender, along with social determinants like racism, geography, access to medical care and housing security.
“Though Montgomery County performs better than state and national averages on most health outcomes, disparities exist among population subgroups on race, ethnicity and geographic areas,” said Gayles. “It is important to develop and establish community-specific goals for benchmarking and ongoing improvement so that our population health improvement process can be monitored, evaluated and improved.”
As the seasons begin to change and winter brings in the flu season, Gayles recommends that residents weatherproof their homes to keep the cold out, dress in warm clothing and make sure that heating sources are safe so that health in Montgomery County continues to improve.
“Our goal is to evaluate progress made and efforts needed among DHHS’ health programs and partnerships through a data-driven and evidence-based approach that meets the needs and changing population of Montgomery County,” Gayles said.