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Health Serv Res. 1997 Dec;32(5):561-90.

The determinants of dumping: a national study of economically motivated transfers involving mental health care.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.



To examine the prevalence and determinants of economically motivated transfers (aka "dumping") from hospitals treating mental illness.


A composite data set constructed from three national random-sampled surveys conducted in 1988 and 1989: (1) of hospitals providing mental health care, (2) of community mental health centers, and (3) of psychiatrists.


The study uses reports from administrators of community mental health centers (CMHCs) to assess the extent of patient dumping by hospitals. To assess the determinants of dumping, reported perceptions of dumping are regressed on variables describing the catchment area in terms of the proportion of for-profit hospitals, intensity of competition among hospitals, extent of utilization review, and capacity of the local treatment system, as well as competition among community mental health centers. To assess if dumping is motivated by factors distinct from those affecting other aspects of access, comparable regressions are estimated with ease of hospital admission as the dependent variables.


Economically motivated transfers of psychiatric patients were widespread in 1988: according to the reports of CMHC administrators, 64.7 percent of all hospitals providing inpatient mental health care engaged in transfers of this sort. The extent of dumping was higher in catchment areas with more competition among hospitals, more proprietary hospitals, and less inpatient capacity in the public sector. Dumping appeared to be more sensitive to capacity in the public sector but less sensitive to involvement by for-profit hospitals than were other measures of access to care.


Economically motivated transfers of patients with mental illness were widespread in 1988 and likely have increased since that time, affecting the viability of the community mental health care system.

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