Factors associated with longer length of stay for mental health emergency department patients

J Emerg Med. 2014 Oct;47(4):412-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2014.04.040. Epub 2014 Jul 26.


Background: Mental health patients can experience long lengths of stay in the emergency department (ED). Reducing boarding times for mental health patients might improve care for all ED patients.

Objective: The objective of this study was to identify patient factors that are correlated with extremely long lengths of stay (EL-LOS) for mental health patients in the ED.

Methods: A retrospective, case-control study compared mental health patients experiencing lengths of stay longer than 24 h to those with lengths of stay <24 h. The study was conducted at an urban, academic ED and Level I trauma center. Sequential chi-squared tests were used to detect significant differences on the outcome measure. Logistic regression was used to determine factors that made significant contributions to predicting EL-LOS. The outcome measure was patients' length of stay in the ED. The factors analyzed were patient demographics, insurance status, day of arrival and departure, placement (admitted locally, admitted remotely, or discharged), chief complaint, and diagnostic category.

Results: Patient-level factors associated with EL-LOS were self-pay status, admission to inpatient care, transfer to a remote facility, and suicidal ideation. Admission to inpatient care and self-pay status made significant nonredundant contributions to predicting EL-LOS. In addition, mental health patients arriving on a weekday were significantly more likely to be admitted to inpatient care than those arriving on weekends.

Conclusions: Factors were identified that correlated with long lengths of stay in the ED for mental health patients. Increasing timely access to inpatient beds for mental health patients, in particular by improving access to insurance that covers inpatient psychiatric care and eliminating unique mental health requirements to obtain prior authorization for placement, would likely reduce these patients' lengths of stay.

Keywords: boarding; disposition; length of stay; mental health; patient safety; psychiatric emergency.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult