Doing mental health care integration: a qualitative study of a new work role

Jennifer Smith-Merry, Jim Gillespie, Nicola Hancock, Ivy Yen
International Journal of Mental Health Systems 2015, 9: 32

BACKGROUND: Mental health care in Australia is fragmented and inaccessible for people experiencing severe and complex mental ill-health. Partners in Recovery is a Federal Government funded scheme that was designed to improve coordination of care and needs for this group. Support Facilitators are the core service delivery component of this scheme and have been employed to work with clients to coordinate their care needs and, through doing so, bring the system closer together.

OBJECTIVE: To understand how Partners in Recovery Support Facilitators establish themselves as a new role in the mental health system, their experiences of the role, the challenges that they face and what has enabled their work.

METHODS: In-depth qualitative interviews were carried out with 15 Support Facilitators and team leaders working in Partners in Recovery in two regions in Western Sydney (representing approximately 35 % of those working in these roles in the regions). Analysis of the interview data focused on the work that the Support Facilitators do, how they conceptualise their role and enablers and barriers to their work.

RESULTS: The support facilitator role is dominated by efforts to seek out, establish and maintain connections of use in addressing their clients' needs. In doing this Support Facilitators use existing interagency forums and develop their own ad hoc groupings through which they can share knowledge and help each other. Support Facilitators also use these groups to educate the sector about Partners in Recovery, its utility and their own role. The diversity of support facilitator backgrounds are seen as both and asset and a barrier and they describe a process of striving to establish an internally collective identity as well as external role clarity and acceptance. At this early stage of PIR establishment, poor communication was identified as the key barrier to Support Facilitators' work.

CONCLUSIONS: We find that the Support Facilitators are building the role from within and using trial and error to develop their practice in coordination. We argue that a strong organisational hierarchy is necessary for support facilitation to be effective and to allow the role to develop effectively. We find that their progress is limited by overall program instability caused by changing government policy priorities.

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