Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine associations between homelessness and length of psychiatric hospitalization and to explore the role of mental health conservatorship in determining discharge location for patients who are homeless and have a grave disability from serious mental illness.
Methods: This observational study used administrative data from a safety-net psychiatric hospital in Los Angeles. The sample included 795 adults (≥18 years) who were hospitalized on an involuntary psychiatric hold between 2016 and 2018. The outcome variables were length of stay (days) and discharge location (home, locked psychiatric facility, unlocked psychiatric facility, unhoused). The predictor variables were homelessness status and whether a mental health conservatorship was initiated during hospitalization. Multiple regression models were used to estimate associations between variables.
Results: Homelessness status was associated with 27.5 additional days (SE=3.5 days) of hospitalization in adjusted models. Homeless patients for whom conservatorship was initiated comprised 6% of the sample but 41% of total inpatient days. Among people who were homeless, initiation of a conservatorship was associated with significantly longer length of inpatient stay (mean=154.8 days versus 25.6 days for the whole sample) but also with lower odds of being unhoused at the time of discharge (risk ratio=0.19, 95% confidence interval=0.09-0.34).
Conclusions: A mental health conservatorship can be a mechanism for helping homeless people with a grave disability from mental illness to transition from the streets to residential psychiatric treatment, but it requires substantial resources from facilities that initiate such conservatorships and does not guarantee resolution of long-term supportive housing needs.
Keywords: Homeless mentally ill; Homelessness; Involuntary commitment; Length of stay.