Mergers may enhance the legitimacy of community health organisations in neoliberal environments

Veronique Roussy, Grant Russell, Charles Livingstone, Therese Riley

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Purpose: Comprehensive primary health care (PHC) models are seldom implemented in high income countries, in part due to their contested legitimacy in neoliberal policy environments. This article explores how merging affected the perceived legitimacy of independent community health organisations in Victoria, Australia, in providing comprehensive PHC services. Design/methodology/approach: A longitudinal follow-up study (2–3 years post-merger) of two amalgamations among independent community health organisations from the state of Victoria, Australia, was conducted. This article explores the perceived effects of merging on (1) the pragmatic, normative and cognitive legitimacy of studied organisations and (2) the collective legitimacy of these organisations in Victoria's health care system. Data were collected through 19 semi-structured interviews with key informants and subjected to template and thematic analyses. Findings: Merging enabled individual organisations to gain greater overall legitimacy as regional providers of comprehensive PHC services and thus retain some capacity to operationalise a social model of health. Normative legitimacy was most enhanced by merging, through acquisition of a large organisational size and adoption of business practices favoured by neoliberal norms. However, mergers may have destabilised the already contested cognitive legitimacy of community health services as a group of organisations and as a comprehensible state-wide platform of service delivery. Practical implications: Over-reliance on individual organisational behaviour to maintain the legitimacy of comprehensive PHC as a model of organising health and social care could lead to inequities in access to such models across communities. Originality/value: This study shows that organisations can manage their perceived legitimacy in order to ensure the survival of their preferred model of service delivery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)717-732
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Health Organisation and Management
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2021


  • Australia
  • Community health
  • Comprehensive primary health care
  • Institutional theory
  • Legitimacy
  • Mergers

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