What's the Difference Between Skilled Nursing Facilities & Nursing Homes?

nurse talking with senior

Nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities are care options for seniors, but offer varying levels of care. A skilled nursing facility provides short-term rehabilitation after an illness, surgery, or injury. This could include:

  • Stroke recovery
  • Wound care
  • Rehab after an illness or operation
  • Terminal illness
  • Serious memory impairment
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • The need for around-the-clock care

A nursing home provides residential care for those who cannot be cared for at home. They provide access to caregivers and nurses and other amenities like scheduled activities or transportation solutions to help seniors stay safe outside of their own living space.

What Are Skilled Nursing Facilities?

Skilled nursing care is a higher level of medical attention that must be provided by or under the direct supervision of licensed health professionals, such as RNs and physical therapists. These services can be required over the short-term for rehabilitation from an ailment or injury or needed long-term as patients need constant care due to chronic illnesses.

Where Is Skilled Nursing Provided?

where is skilled nursing provided?

Skilled nursing care can be administered within various care settings such as nursing homes or long-term and short-term care facilities. Assisted living facilities provide a wide range of care for their residents, but state licensing often determines the tiers of medical care provided in these settings. Residents' care plans are created and overseen by licensed nurses or licensed practical nurses depending on what level each resident is assigned to based on their needs.

However, as the number of seniors choosing to stay in their own homes increases, home health agencies have adapted and offered access to skilled nursing services without having to leave one's place. Licensed nurses or physical therapists provide care tailored specifically for each client who decides not to relocate to a facility.

What Are Nursing Homes?

A Nursing home is a place for those who do not need to be hospitalized but cannot be cared for by their family or loved ones at home. These facilities are typically staffed with nurses on hand 24 hours, seven days a week. Nursing homes provide an excellent alternative when you can no longer take care of yourself yet do not require long-term medical attention, such as the attention offered in hospitals or skilled nursing facilities.

Comparing Skilled Nursing Facilities Vs. Nursing Homes

Now that we've laid out the fundamental differences between nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities, there are other key differences between the two that should be considered before choosing which is best for you or a loved one.

comparing skilled nursing facilities vs nursing homes

1. Focus of Care

Naturally, the main difference between the two is the focus of care. Nursing homes are focused on assisting with tasks of daily living. However, residents of nursing homes vary in their dependency on their caretakers for help with daily activities and routine appointments, such as dialysis.

Care in a nursing home often includes:

  • Help with personal hygiene
  • ADLs such as getting dressed, going to the bathroom, and eating meals
  • Recreational activities
  • Laundry services
  • Meals
  • Medications
  • Housekeeping

It's important to note that a registered nurse does not generally perform day-to-day care provided in a nursing home.

Skilled nursing care is focused on a patient's medical and/or rehabilitative needs, providing treatment that may include physical, occupational therapy, speech therapy, including day-to-day custodial care. Other examples of skilled nursing services include:

  • Wound care
  • IV therapy
  • Injections
  • Catheter care
  • Physical therapy
  • Monitoring of vital signs and medical equipment
  • Tube feedings
  • Rehabilitation after an accident or a stroke

2. The Staff

Most care in nursing homes can be provided by licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants, and personal care aides.

Skilled nursing facilities are more focused on medical attention than traditional nursing homes. Patients receive one-on-one, attentive care that is tailored to their specific needs and preferences.

Skilled nursing facilities are also staffed with a higher level of medical professionals to assist in ongoing rehabilitation services. You can expect to have much greater access to on-staff physicians, occupational therapists, rehabilitation specialists, and other licensed physical therapists in these types of care centers than in traditional nursing homes.

3. Length of Stay

The average stay in a nursing home is much longer than that of skilled nursing facilities, as those who live in nursing home facilities are in need of a space for long-term living.

The average senior stays at least five days in a skilled nursing facility, but sometimes over 20 days if they need short-term treatment for an injury or illness requiring recovery time before returning home. A medical condition may have them staying indefinitely if it requires ongoing care from qualified professionals.

4. Regulations

The state Department of Health regulates skilled nursing facilities to offer specialized medical care. To qualify, skilled nursing facilities will usually need more intensive nursing care and other physical therapy or injections available onsite.

5. Insurance Coverage

Skilled nursing facilities are a lifeline for many seniors who need additional care while recovering from an illness. Medicare, Medicaid and other insurance programs typically cover skilled nursing facility stays up to 100 days per visit, meaning that these patients can recover comfortably in the company of their loved ones without worrying about exorbitant medical bills.

Medicare or any private health plan generally does not cover traditional nursing homes.

Skilled Nursing Vs. Nursing Homes Vs. Assisted Living

If you're weighing the pros and cons of skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes, chances are you've come across the term assisted living.

Assisted living facilities typically offer a less intense level of care and resources than nursing homes. They are generally geared towards those who need minimal assistance with activities such as cooking or bathing. They often provide more amenities that may improve the quality of life for residents, such as transportation services.

How to Decide Which Option Fits Your Needs

Now that you have a better understanding of these options, it's essential to weigh the pros and cons of each. Not only is it a conversation that you should have with your loved one, but it's also important to speak with their practitioner to gauge how much help your loved ones need with any ailments or health care.