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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Zambakari

Bridging the Gap: Enhancing Mental Health Services in Rural Areas of Arizona

Dr. Christopher Zambakari, B.S., MBA, M.I.S., LP.D. Owner/Operator; Desert Haven Home Care, Apollo Residential Assisted Living, Villa Fiore Assisted Living-Prescott Valley

 

Under a single home care umbrella, Desert Haven Home Care, Apollo Residential Assisted Living, and Villa Fiore Assisted Living-Prescott feature unparalleled care, feature unparalleled care, service and advocacy in the compassionate treatment of senior citizens in need of medical attention. Offered in a familial setting, the facilities are teamed by professionals passionate about their work and fully engaged in the welfare of residents. Each facility proudly provides patient-centric supervisory, assisted and directed care, short-term respite stays and memory care support for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.


The following exploration of mental healthcare and its availability in rural Arizona is one in a series of regular informational blogs related to the field of service, care and the treatment of our elderly.

 

Access to quality mental health services is essential for the overall well-being of individuals, regardless of their age or geographical location. However, rural areas in Arizona often face significant challenges in accessing adequate mental healthcare.


As the owner and operator of three Arizona-based residential assisted living settings – Desert Haven Home Care in Phoenix, Apollo Residential Assisted Living in Glendale, and Villa Fiore Assisted Living-Prescott Valley – I am familiar with the mental health landscape in our great state. I am happy to share with you these thoughts on the importance of mental health services in rural areas of Arizona and present some of the keyways we can improve access to mental healthcare for residents in these regions.


Credit: Mladen Zivkovic / Shutterstock

The importance of mental health services in rural areas

Sadly, rural areas in Arizona are often overlooked and mostly lack comprehensive mental health treatment and care tools. What makes the problem even more disconcerting is that mental illness is one fight rural Arizona – like the rest of America – is losing. RuralMinds.org notes that, when compared with their urban counterparts, rural dwellers and workers suffer a higher rate of depression, and suicide rates of people living in remote areas are 64-68 percent higher than those living in urban settings.


Closer to home, in “A Review of the Public Behavioral Health System in Rural Arizona,” the University of Arizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health reported:

Not only do rural areas frequently have shortages of behavioral health professionals and

specialized behavioral health services, but the turnover rate for service providers is high,

and providers that remain often express feelings of isolation from other health professionals. These conditions are exacerbated in isolated rural and frontier areas and areas with

concentrations of poverty and migrant and seasonal farm workers.”


More than ever before, treatment and care in the “outback” must be addressed, and ways to increase services must be found.


1. Mental health issues are on the rise. Rural communities are not immune to mental health challenges. In fact, studies have shown that rural populations may experience higher rates of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Access to quality mental health services is crucial for early intervention, diagnosis and treatment of these conditions.

2. Mental health impacts overall well-being. Mental health plays a significant role in overall well-being and quality of life. Access to professional mental healthcare helps to ensure that individuals manage their symptoms, cope with stressors and lead more fulfilling lives. It is vital to address mental health needs in rural areas to ensure the well-being of residents and provide an upgraded quality of life.


Rural areas in Arizona often face significant challenges in accessing adequate mental healthcare.

Improving access to mental healthcare in rural Arizona

The aforementioned University of Arizona review estimated that more than 300,000 rural residents in the state were in need of behavioral health care. There are at least three areas that need attention, if we are to improve the access and quality of mental health care in rural Arizona.

  1. Telehealth and telepsychiatry. Telehealth became a familiar buzzword during the pandemic, but its history precedes COVID and has – for more than century – proven to be a critical tool in bringing medical attention to those in underserved areas. In fact, an 1879 report in the renowned British medical journal Lancet may have referred to the beginnings of such mind-blowing technology, noting the use of the telephone to reduce the number of unnecessary office visits. Since then, telehealth has emerged as a powerful tool for delivering mental health services remotely. Through secure video conferencing, individuals in rural areas are able to connect with mental health professionals without the need for extensive and expensive travel. Telepsychiatry allows for therapy sessions, counseling and medication management, ensuring access to vital care, especially in areas with limited mental health resources.

  2. Integrated care models. Like telehealth, the integration of mental health services into primary care settings is an effective approach to improving access in rural areas. By training primary care providers to identify and address mental health concerns, individuals receive timely interventions and appropriate referrals. Collaborative care models, where primary care providers work closely with mental health specialists, enhance the coordination and delivery of mental healthcare. Sometimes referred to as interprofessional healthcare, integrated behavioral health practices bring together medical teams in beneficial ways that positively impact outcomes and extend to patients, caregivers, providers and the larger healthcare system. Such coordinated care can reduce depressive symptoms, enhance access to services, improve the quality of care and lower overall health costs.

  3. Community outreach and education. Promoting mental health awareness and education within rural communities is crucial. Community-based programs can provide information about mental health conditions, available resources and the importance of seeking help. These initiatives help reduce stigma, create a supportive environment and encourage individuals to access mental health services. Partnering with local organizations, schools and community centers can facilitate outreach efforts.


We can do better

Ultimately, the recommendations offered in the UA study focused on improving the scope and delivery of behavioral healthcare to Arizona’s rural residents. Some require policy formation or change. Others defer to additional study. Still others suggested stepped-up education and training. One of the final recommendations on the list of nine is, no doubt, the most critical: increasing the number of behavioral health residential treatment facilities in rural Arizona. The study noted: “There are insufficient behavioral health residential treatment facilities in rural Arizona for rural adults, practically none for rural youth, and those that do exist are only for the treatment of substance abuse.”


Access to quality mental healthcare is vital for rural communities in Arizona to effectively address and service the needs of their residents. By recognizing the importance of mental health services in rural areas and implementing strategies to improve access, we can bridge the gap and ensure that individuals receive the support they need. Through the integration of telehealth, the development of integrated care models and the creation of community outreach and education opportunities, we can enhance mental healthcare services and promote the well-being of rural populations.


It is essential to continue advocating for increased resources, funding and specialized programs to ensure equitable access to mental health services for all, regardless of their geographical location.


For more information, you can reach me or one of my team at info@deserthavenaz.com


 

About the Author

Dr. Christopher Zambakari is the owner and operator of three Arizona-based assisted living care homes – Desert Haven Home Care in Phoenix, Apollo Residential Assisted Living in Glendale, and Villa Fiore Assisted Living in Prescott Valley, Arizona. He provides direction and oversight to a team of licensed medical and caregiving professionals to ensure the highest levels of customized care, service and advocacy at each of his facilities. Zambakari is founder and CEO of The Zambakari Advisory, an international consultancy in the areas of strategic intelligence, program design and transitional processes. He is a Hartley B. and Ruth B. Barker Endowed Rotary Peace Fellow, and the assistant editor of the Bulletin of The Sudans Studies Association.

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