This research is an epidemiological study of long-term care facility admissions to various types of institutions (homes for the elderly, nursing homes, psychiatric institutions) during 1994 in Belgium. Data were obtained from a network of 143 general practitioners, which acts as a reliable surveillance system for health-related data. For every patient who was institutionalized, physicians were asked to record the following information: (1) type of institution in which the patient was placed; (2) medical conditions; (3) current living situation; (4) reason for institutionalization; (5) length of the waiting time for institutionalization, and (6) whether or not the patient was hospitalized prior to the institutionalization. The overall incidence for institutionalization among older patients was 1%. The most common medical conditions upon placement were functional impairments and dementia. Over half the patients lived alone just prior to the placement and family members made the majority of requests for placements. Compared to placements in other types of institutions, those to psychiatric facilities were more likely to be 'urgent' and waiting times for admission to these institutions were shorter. Over half of all placements were preceded by an admission to a medical hospital. Few placements (16%) were made with the consultation of home care services. Finally, in about two thirds of the cases, patients were cared for by their general practitioner while they were institutionalized.