Connecting unstably housed veterans living in rural areas to health care: Perspectives from Health Care Navigators

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Health Services Research


Objective: To understand existing care practices and policies, and potential enhancements, to improve the effectiveness of the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Health Care Navigators (HCN) in linking Veterans experiencing housing instability in rural areas with health care services. Data Sources and Study Setting: We used primary data collected during semistructured interviews with HCNs (n = 21) serving rural areas across the United States during Spring 2022. Study Design: We applied the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research (CFIR) 2009 and the Social Ecological Model (SEM) to the collection and analysis of qualitative data to understand how HCNs administer services within SSVF and the larger community. Data Collection/Extraction Methods: We used rapid qualitative methods to summarize and analyze data. Templated matrix summaries identified facilitators and barriers to linking Veterans with health care services and policy and practice implications. Principal Findings: Using CFIR 2009, we identified contextual factors affecting successful implementation of HCN services within SSVF; we offer a crosswalk between CFIR 2009 and the version updated in 2022. Framing facilitators and barriers within the SEM provided insight into whether implementation strategies should be addressed at a community, interpersonal, or intrapersonal level within the SEM. Facilitators included sufficient knowledge, training, and mentorship opportunities for HCNs and their capacity to collaborate within their organization and with other community-based organizations. Barriers included lack of local technology and housing resources, inadequate understanding of Veterans' service eligibilities and pathways to access those services, and deficient collaboration with the VA. Conclusions: Understanding facilitators and barriers experienced by HCN when linking unstably housed Veterans in rural areas with health care services can inform future strategies, including policy changes such as increased training to support HCNs' understanding of eligibility, benefits, and entitlements as well as improving communication and collaboration between VA and community partners.

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