From home to hospital and back again: economic restructuring, end of life, and the gendered problems of place-switching health services

Soc Sci Med. 2003 Jun;56(11):2289-301. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(02)00228-9.


Economic restructuring in the health services industry in the USA exemplifies general patterns of economic change propelled by neoliberalism, especially industry privatization, diminished social services, and dependence on "flexible" labor and management regimes. Combined with the widespread entry of women into the labor force, an aging population, and minimal assistance for high quality long-term care at the end of life, these economic and social conditions raise a set of difficult policy questions for health services planning. Set in these broad contexts, this paper situates access to and experience of health services in the home, the hospital, and nursing facility, to demonstrate how economic changes have relocated and redefined health services in ways that distinctively impact how people experience the places where they receive care. This place switching of health services externalizes costs of subacute and "daily life care" (the so-called custodial care) to the sphere of the individual, their family, and communities. The theoretical analysis uses current geographical and philosophical approaches to place and space, and considers the tensions between institutionally managed health care space, and the patient's experience of receiving health services in place. The place/space dilemma of health services provision is examined through several interrelated subjects: long-term care at the end of life, gendered characteristics of care giving, the limitations of Medicare and Medicaid, historical changes in hospital length of stay, the restructuring of nursing practices, and the "no-care zone". The analysis is based on examples of stroke and incontinence care to demonstrate the importance of considering place and space issues in health care planning.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Continuity of Patient Care / organization & administration
  • Cost of Illness
  • Geography
  • Health Facility Environment*
  • Health Services Accessibility / organization & administration
  • Home Care Services / ethics
  • Home Care Services / organization & administration*
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Care / ethics
  • Long-Term Care / organization & administration*
  • Medicaid / organization & administration
  • Medicare / organization & administration
  • Organizational Culture*
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities / ethics
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities / organization & administration*
  • Sociology, Medical*
  • Stroke / psychology
  • Stroke Rehabilitation
  • Urinary Incontinence / psychology
  • Urinary Incontinence / rehabilitation
  • Vulnerable Populations / psychology*