Psychiatric assessments of nursing home residents under OBRA-87: Should PASARR be reformed?

Soo Borson, J. Pierre Loebel, Margaret Kitchell, Sylvia Domoto, Thomas Hyde

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19 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: As part of nursing home practice reforms, OBRA-87 mandates formal psychiatric assessments (PASARR) of nursing home residents suspected of having mental disorders, a responsibility it delegates individually to states. We describe the initial year of implementation of the PASARR process in King County, Washington, and characterize the mental disorders and mental health services needs of nursing home residents referred for psychiatric screening. DESIGN: Cross-sectional study. SETTING: The 54 Medicare-certified King County nursing homes (total beds = 7013). PARTICIPANTS: All patients referred for psychiatric evaluation under PASARR (n = 510). MEASUREMENTS: A systematic, multidimensional evaluation including a semistructured psychiatric diagnostic examination, validated measures of cognitive dysfunction, depression, and global psychopathology, functional variables relevant to need for nursing home care, and selected mental health services indicators. RESULTS: Fewer than 10% of all nursing home residents were referred for psychiatric evaluation. A primary mental illness, evenly divided between psychoses and mood disorders, was found in 60% of the sample, and a psychiatric disorder associated with dementia or mental retardation was found in 25%. Six percent had complex neuropsychiatric features defying classification, and 4% had no mental disorder. Other disorders, such as substance abuse, were rare. Cognitive impairment and global psychopathology were prevalent in all diagnostic groups, and depressive symptoms were common even in patients without affective diagnoses. Eighty-eight percent of the sample were appropriately placed, based on their needs for daily care. Fifty- five percent had unmet mental health services needs. CONCLUSIONS: The PASARR referral process detected a group of seriously mentally ill, functionally disabled patients, most of whom required the level of care that nursing homes provide. Depressed and psychiatrically impaired dementia patients were underrepresented in the referral pool as measured against widely accepted prevalence figures for mental disorders in nursing home populations. The PASARR process as currently configured appears to be most efficient in identifying schizophrenic patients, who represent a small minority of nursing home residents, and the skewed sample it generates fails to provide an adequate basis for estimating overall mental health services needed in nursing homes. The PASARR process should be altered to improve referral rates for depressed and behaviorally disturbed dementia patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1173-1181
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1997


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