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Case management assigns the administration of care for an outpatient individual with a serious mental illness to a single person (or team); this includes coordinating all necessary medical and mental health care, along with associated supportive services.
Case management tries to enhance access to care and improve the continuity and efficiency of services. Depending on the specific setting and locale, case managers are responsible for a variety of tasks, ranging from linking clients to services to actually providing intensive clinical or rehabilitative services themselves. Other core functions include outreach to engage clients in services, assessing individual needs, arranging requisite support services (such as housing, benefit programs, job training), monitoring medication and use of services, and advocating for client rights and entitlements.
Case management is not a time-limited service, but is intended to be ongoing, providing clients whatever they need whenever they need it, for as long as necessary.
Over the past 50 years, there have been fundamental changes in the system of mental health care in America. In the 1950s, mental health care for persons with severe and persistent mental illnesses (like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression, and schizoaffective disorder) was provided almost exclusively by large public mental hospitals. Created as part of a reform movement, these state hospitals provided a wide range of basic life supports in addition to mental health treatment, including housing, meals, clothing and laundry services, and varying degrees of social and vocational rehabilitation.
During the latter half of the same decade, the introduction of neuroleptic medication provided symptomatic management of seriously disabling psychoses. This breakthrough, and other subsequent reforms in mental health policy (including the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 and the Supplemental Security Income [SSI] program in 1974), provided incentives for policy makers to discharge patients to the community and transfer state mental health expenditures to the federal government.
These advances—coupled with new procedural safeguards for involuntary patients, court decisions establishing the right to treatment in the least restrictive setting, and changed philosophies of care—led to widespread deinstitutionalization. In 1955 there were 559,000 persons in state hospitals; by 1980, that number had dropped to 132,000. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Center for Mental Health Services, while the number of mental health organizations providing 24-hour services (hospital inpatient and residential treatment) more than doubled in the United States from 1970 to 1998, the number of psychiatric beds provided by these organizations decreased by half.
As a result of deinstitutionalization policies, the number of patients discharged from hospitals has risen, and the average length of stay for newly admitted patients has decreased. An increasing number of patients are never admitted at all, but are diverted to a more complex and decentralized system of community-based care. Case management was designed to remedy the confusion created by multiple care providers in different settings, and to assure accessibility, continuity of care, and accountability for individuals with long-term disabling mental illnesses.
Author Info: Irene S. Levine Ph.D., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, 2003
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