BACKGROUND: Long-term ICU patients who require prolonged mechanical ventilation are a growing segment of the in-hospital population. Despite recognition that this population is costly to care for no systematic research has been done on the characteristics, outcomes, and disposition of these patients after they leave the hospital. OBJECTIVE: To describe clinical and sociodemographic characteristics and outcomes of ICU patients who require long-term (5 days or more) mechanical ventilation while in the hospital. METHODS: A prospective, longitudinal descriptive design was used to study 57 ICU patients who required 5 days or more of continuous mechanical ventilation while in the hospital. Clinical and sociodemographic data were collected at the time of enrollment. Patients were followed up for up to 6 months after discharge from the hospital to ascertain disposition and morality. RESULTS: On average, patients had a hospital stay of almost 6 weeks and required mechanical ventilation for approximately 4 weeks; 43.9% of the patients died in the hospital. None of the patients discharged from the hospital were able to return home initially without assistance. By 6 months after discharge, more than 50% of the original sample and died, 9% resided in an institution, and 33% were living at home. CONCLUSIONS: A large percentage of ICU patients who require 5 days or more of mechanical ventilation die in the hospital, and many of those who live spend considerable time in an extended-care facility before they are discharged to their homes. These likely outcomes of patients who require long-term ventilation should be discussed with patients and their families to assist them in making informed decisions.