Objective: To examine the effects of personal and community characteristics, specifically race and rurality, on lengths of state psychiatric hospital and community stays using maximum likelihood survival analysis with a special emphasis on change over a ten year period of time.
Data Sources: We used the administrative data of the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Substance Abuse Services (DMHMRSAS) from 1982–1991 and the Area Resources File (ARF). Given these two sources, we constructed a history file for each individual who entered the state psychiatric system over the ten year period. Histories included demographic, treatment, and community characteristics.
Study Design: We used a longitudinal, population-based design with maximum likelihood estimation of survival models. We presented a random effects model with unobserved heterogeneity that was independent of observed covariates. The key dependent variables were lengths of inpatient stay and subsequent length of community stay. Explanatory variables measured personal, diagnostic, and community characteristics, as well as controls for calendar time.
Data Collection: This study used secondary, administrative, and health planning data.
Principal Findings: African-American clients leave the community more quickly than whites. After controlling for other characteristics, however, race does not affect hospital length of stay. Rurality does not affect length of community stays once other personal and community characteristics are controlled for. However, people from rural areas have longer hospital stays even after controlling for personal and community characteristics. The effects of time are significantly smaller than expected. Diagnostic composition effects and a decrease in the rate of first inpatient admissions explain part of this reduced impact of time. We also find strong evidence for the existence of unobserved heterogeneity in both types of stays and adjust for this in our final models.
Conclusions: Our results show that information on client characteristics available from inpatient stay records is useful in predicting not only the length of inpatient stay but also the length of the subsequent community stay. This information can be used to target increased discharge planning for those at risk of more rapid readmission to inpatient care. Correlation across observed and unobserved factors affecting length of stay has significant effects on the measurement of relationships between individual factors and lengths of stay. Thus, it is important to control for both observed and unobserved factors in estimation.