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Public Policy and Administration


Anne J. Hacker


Mental illness in the United States is a major public health problem. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2017, 18.9% of adults in the United States had a mental illness. The purpose of this study was to gain insight into the perceptions held by community health workers (CHWs) regarding their integration into the behavioral health care system in Maryland. Using a social constructivism paradigm and phenomenological approach, a purposive sample of 11 CHWs who supported patients with behavioral health conditions in 17 counties in the state were interviewed. Howlett, McConnell, and Perl'€™s five stream confluence policy process theory and Lipsky's street level bureaucracy theory provided the foundation to explore the perceptions of the CHWs about their integration into the behavioral health care system; the problems, policies, processes, and programs that impacted their ability to be integrated into the behavioral health team; and their function as a street level bureaucrat to facilitate their integration. A deductive iterative coding approach was used, culminating in the identification of the following 6 themes: health system utilization of CHW behavioral health integration, official policy recognition of the CHW profession, accountability for CHW integration, CHW practice support, integrated health care team management of physical and mental health and behavior, and building the CHW profession. The social change implications of this study are that CHWs'€™ integration into the broadly defined, integrated, physical and mental behavioral health team can support having a more cost-effective way toward having healthy people and communities because they link the community to health and social services and advocate for quality care.