Dr. Rhonda Mattox Sees ‘Tsunami’ Mental Health in Rural America | Arkansas Business News


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Dr. Rhonda Mattox was named president of the Arkansas Medical, Dental & Pharmaceutical Association in June. She is a licensed physician, integrative behavioral health psychiatrist, and consultant to primary care providers. Previously, she was an associate professor at the University of Arkansas for medical sciences and a teacher at UCLA.

Mattox graduated from Hendrix College in Conway and earned her medical degree from UAMS. She has also trained at the National Institute of Mental Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars program.

The Arkansas Medical, Dental & Pharmaceutical Association is the oldest medical association of black physicians in the state.

We keep hearing about a looming mental health crisis in the country. How is it in Arkansas?

It has already hit us like a tsunami, especially in remote areas. There is an unprecedented influx of first-time mental health consumers juxtaposed with a shortage of mental health professionals. As clinicians exodus from the workforce, the demand for behavioral health has increased exponentially. We need telehealth infrastructure with broadband access and cybersecurity measures to reach people where they are. We also need telehealth services covered by insurers after the pandemic.

What do you think of the prospect of Arkansas having its first dental school?

It’s exciting and long overdue. Many have failed to make the connection between oral health and health. It costs us dearly.

What are the main concerns of your members?

First, the safety of our patients and access to quality health care throughout our rural state. Second, the poor distribution of health care justifies an urgent reduction of the digital divide. Affordable statewide broadband coverage ensures accessibility for an experienced workforce. Staffing is also an issue. There is not enough of anything—pharmacists, technicians, nurses, doctors, dentists, or dental hygienists—to meet current needs. COVID has made this worse. Patients line up for hours to get medicine. Some pharmacies do not have pharmacists working on weekends. Another concern? The sanctity of the patient-provider relationship is eroding as legislators take health care too far. Politics compromises medicine by introducing fear of reprisal, intimidation or litigation. Reimbursement is also a problem. Coverage of telemedicine services must continue so that the specialist care and mental health care that became accessible via telehealth during the pandemic can remain accessible.

What can your organization do to encourage more African Americans to become doctors or pursue other health care careers?

AMDPA embodies the sankofa spirit of going back and advancing students in health professions. For 129 years, our members have been pioneers working tirelessly to increase the diversity of the workforce. In 1900, blacks represented 11.6% of the national population and 1.3% of the medical workforce. Fast forward to 2018, when 12.8% of the total population was black, but made up 5.4% of the US medical workforce, according to a recent UCLA study. These disparities are based on decades of structural racism that the AMDPA cannot correct. But we can inform and associate. The solutions warrant informed policy changes at many levels. That’s why we help policymakers understand that tackling workforce diversity also means tackling the maldistribution of providers and health equity. Blacks are more likely to practice primary care and serve in rural and underserved areas than whites. Additionally, racially congruent care leads to better communication and better outcomes.

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