Defining effective care coordination for mental health referrals of refugee populations in the United States

Patricia J. Shannon, Gregory A. Vinson, Tonya L. Horn, Evelyn Lennon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objectives: Refugee populations arriving to the United States report high rates of exposure to trauma and associated psychiatric distress that may necessitate referrals to mental health services. Although refugee arrivals receive a voluntary health screening, mental health screening is not routine. Public health providers report that one barrier to mental health screening concerns uncertainty about how to connect refugee patients to mental health services. This article reports essential components of successful and unsuccessful care coordination related to mental health referrals of refugees. Design: A community based participatory research study explored the characteristics of successful and unsuccessful mental health referrals of refugee patients through an online survey of refugee providers. Ten coders sorted provider stories of mental health referrals into critical incidents that were analyzed using principle components analysis (PCA). Care coordination emerged as an important characteristic of referral success. This category of care coordination was analyzed further into components of successful and unsuccessful care coordination using a higher order PCA. A similar process was followed examining providers’ perceptions of why care coordination was successful or unsuccessful. Results: Components describing successful care coordination include ongoing communication between providers, scheduling initial appointments directly, access to emergency mental health services, and case management provided by health plan staff. Components related to unsuccessful care coordination describe the failure to communicate about care or establish appointments in a timely manner and the failure to resolve access barriers. Trust in relationships among providers and between refugee patients and providers was an important reason why care coordination was successful. Conclusion: Ongoing communication between providers is essential to successful mental health referrals of patients with refugee backgrounds. Multidisciplinary systems of care may benefit from education about the importance of building relationships among providers and the essential components of successful care coordination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)737-755
Number of pages19
JournalEthnicity and Health
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 19 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Hatch project [55-028]. Grant award: National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Award Number UL1TR000114 to the University of Minnesota Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Care coordination
  • accessing care
  • barriers to care
  • refugee mental health
  • refugee resettlement
  • refugee trauma survivors


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