Skilled Nursing Facilities vs Nursing Homes

Touseef Riaz

June 4, 2021

nursing home vs skilled nursing facilities

According to a report, almost 2 million people reside in one of the many nursing homes around the country every year. These are both long- and short-term care facilities providing various services for their residents. The services they provide are either grouped as Skilled Nursing or Nursing Home Care.

Doctors and nurses coordinate hands. Concept Teamwork

Both these terms may sound similar and are often used interchangeably, but when it comes to determining the most suitable long-term care option for a loved one, it is crucial to have a broader understanding of the terminology.

A skilled nursing facility (SNF) basically provides care for rehabilitation patients for a short-term period, usually following an emergency hospital stay. The facility houses specialized staff such as rehabilitation specialists, speech-language therapists, and audiologists, and can cater to other non-medical requirements as well, allowing for recovery outside the hospital.

Nursing home care offers certified nurses and non-medical assistance like meal preparation and bathing, but unlike skilled nursing facilities, they lack in-house medical practitioners and other specialized staff. Nursing homes are known to provide custodial assistance for long durations or even on a permanent basis.

Overview of Skilled Nursing Facilities

A source of transitional care between the hospital and personal residence, a stay in a skilled nursing facility is often short-term and defined. The care at a skilled nursing facility is distinct from that of a nursing home. Specialized services such as pathologists, hearing specialists, rehabilitations, dietary aides, occupational therapists, and others, can all be offered at a skilled nursing facility.

Rehabilitative services are common when a patient is discharged from a hospital to oversee the improvement in the patient’s health. That is where a skilled nursing facility comes in, certified to deliver, and provide care for the recovering patients. Care for long-term or stable patients is excluded, and Medicare covers up to 100 days of rehabilitative care.

Choosing the right Skilled Nursing Facility

The primary aim of going to a skilled nursing facility is to recover completely from a medical incident and to be able to transition smoothly from the hospital safely back to your home. Having said that, there are a number of things that you need to consider when choosing a skilled nursing facility. Below is a checklist that you should at least take into consideration when searching for the right facility:

·         Is the facility Medicare-certified?

·         Does the facility provide the specific medical services that you require?

·         Is the skilled nursing facility close to friends and family?

·         Is the facility clean and fit to live for a period of time?

·         What recreational and social activities are available to residents of the facility?

·         What is the ratio of nurses on-site per resident?

·         Is there a licensed doctor available?

·         What is the typical stay length for someone with your needs?  

.      Where is the nearest hospital in case of an emergency?

Overview Of Nursing Homes

In stark contrast to skilled nursing facilities, nursing home care refers to indefinite custodial care. The absence of specialized staff means that most of the care is non-medical, including feeding, laundry, bathing, monitoring medication, and grooming, done by dedicated nurses around the clock, for an undetermined time period.

You can usually live in a nursing home even if you have to visit the hospital frequently for medical care. Medicare is not liable to cover the expenses incurred while in a nursing home in most circumstances. However, medical supplies, hospital services, and other health care expenses are covered by Medicare.

Choosing the right Nursing Home

When looking for the perfect nursing home for your loved one, it is even more important to consider certain factors as the stay is usually longer as compared to a skilled nursing facility. Here are some of the key factors:

·         Is the nursing home Medicare-certified?

·         Does the nursing home provide the level of care that you require?

·         Is the nursing home close to family and friends?

·         How is the staff? Are they friendly and interactive?

·         Are there indoor and outdoor activities?

·         What recreational and social activities are available to residents of the nursing home?

·         What medical staff are available on-site, and what others are on call?

·         How often is a nurse available, or is one always on-site?

·         Do residents of the nursing home have access to their personal doctors?

·         Will the facility help arrange transportation for these and other medical appointments?

·         Is the entire facility wheelchair accessible?

·         Can the nursing home accommodate specific dietary needs and allergies?

·         Where is the nearest hospital in case of an emergency?

Skilled nursing facilities Vs Nursing homes

Key differences between skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes:

Length of stay

For a skilled nursing home, the average stay duration is 15-20 days, since the stay is just for rehabilitative purposes. Mostly, the patient is recovering from a medical condition or a procedure and checks out as soon as the transition is done. On the other hand, there is no definite limit to how long a person stays at a nursing home, where the duration is often for longer periods of time.

Medical Coverage

Most skilled nursing facilities are covered by Medicare or other insurance programs, normally for 100 days. The first 20 days are fully covered; while for the rest of the stay, the patient may have to pay as per the insurance policy. Nursing homes are generally not covered completely by Medicare or other insurance programs. However, the expenses can be covered by Medicaid for the long-term services, based on particular criteria.


Skilled nursing facilities employ regular physicians to check on the patients frequently. Other staff includes physical therapists, vocational nurses, licensed practical nurses, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and medical directors, who are responsible for around-the-clock monitoring and care of the patients. Traditional nursing homes commonly employ visiting doctors who have regularly scheduled appointments to evaluate and treat patients.


For skilled nursing facilities, the focus is more on the medical needs of the patients, as compared to nursing homes. Patients receive one-on-one attention, tailored to their specific needs.


Both the facilities provide various services which include housekeeping, providing meals, bathing, and grooming. On top of that, skilled nursing facilities also provide extensive medical care, skilled nursing, physical therapy, among others.


Even though skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes sound similar, there are clear differences between the two. A skilled nursing facility houses patients after a hospital stay for a short period of time and serves a rehabilitative purpose. Whereas a nursing home is classified as custodial care and involves mostly non-medical support services.

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