Guardianship Before and Following Hospitalization

HEC Forum:1-22 (forthcoming)

Abstract

When ethics committees are consulted about patients who have or need court-appointed guardians, they lack empirical evidence about several common issues, including the relationship between guardianship and prolonged, potentially medically unnecessary hospitalizations for patients. To provide information about this issue, we conducted quantitative and qualitative analyses using a retrospective cohort from Veterans Healthcare Administration. To examine the relationship between guardianship appointment and hospital length of stay, we first compared 116 persons hospitalized prior to guardianship appointment to a comparison group 3:1 matched for age, diagnosis, date of admission, and comorbidity. We then compared 91 persons hospitalized in the year following guardianship appointment to a second matched comparison group. Mean length of stay was 30.75 days amongst those admitted prior to guardianship, which was higher than the comparison group. Length of stay was lower following guardianship appointment ; while higher than the comparison group, differences were not associated with guardianship status. In a separate analysis involving 35 individuals who were hospitalized both prior to and following guardianship, length of stay was longer in the year prior versus after guardianship. In qualitative analyses, four themes associated with lengths of stay exceeding 45 days prior to guardianship appointment were: administrative issues, family conflict, neuropsychiatric comorbidity, and medical complications. Our results suggest that persons who are admitted to hospitals, and subsequently require a guardian, experience extended lengths of stay for multiple complex reasons. Once a guardian has been appointed, however, differences in hospital lengths of stay between patients with and without guardians are reduced.

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