Resource Center / Health and Lifestyle / Skilled Nursing Facility vs Nursing Home: What’s the Difference?

Skilled Nursing Facility vs Nursing Home: What’s the Difference?

Confused about the difference between a nursing home and a skilled nursing facility? Seniorly explains the differences between these two categories of senior care and how to evaluate which is the best choice for you and your family.

By Marlena del Hierro Updated on Jun 29, 2023
Reviewed by Nipun Chopra · Reviewed on Dec 15, 2022

If you or a loved one has started a search for senior care, chances are you've run across some pretty confusing names for the various kinds of senior living facilities. While nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) might appear similar and are occasionally used interchangeably, there are a few important differences.

What is a skilled nursing facility?

A skilled nursing facility (SNF) is a short-term, rehabilitation-focused care facility. Skilled nursing care offers more comprehensive, rehabilitation-focused care than nursing homes. Skilled nursing facilities are typically used for people who need rehabilitation after a hospital stay, such as an injury or illness. They also have a higher staff-to-patient ratio and receive skilled nursing services, which allows for more individualized attention overall.

In-house doctors and registered nurses (RNs) provide medical care such as medication management, blood tests, and pain management. This type of care can include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and other services to help patients until they are well enough to go home. 

In addition to rehabilitation services, SNFs can also include the following skilled nursing services:

  • Pain management
  • Wound care
  • Help with aspiration devices
  • Giving injections
  • Inserting and maintaining catheters and feeding tubes

At Seniorly, we refer to this type of community as either a nursing home or a skilled nursing facility.

What is a nursing home?

While those in the senior living sector may used the terms "SNF" and "nursing home" interchangeably (mainly because they both use the term "nursing"), most people think of a nursing home as long-term care solution in a licensed facility that provides continuous care and assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing and dressing. At Seniorly, we refer to this type of senior care as assisted living.

Assisted living typically has a lower staff-to-patient ratio, resulting in less individualized attention and care. Skilled nursing staff can include RNs, licensed practical nurses (LPNs), and certified nursing assistants (CNAs). 

Nursing homes can be used for people who need long-term care due to a chronic illness or disability. They can also be used for older people who are no longer able to live independently and need assistance with ADLs, such as bathing, dressing, and eating.

Along with the ADLs listed above, some other care services of a nursing home include:

  • Transportation services
  • Housekeeping
  • General medical care, such as oxygen tank management
  • 24-hour emergency medical care
  • Social activities

5 differences between skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes

Level of care

The type of care facility that is right for you or your loved one depends on the level of care and assistance needed. Here's the best way to summarize the difference:

  • Skilled Nursing Facility: If you or your loved one need short-term, rehabilitative care, then a skilled nursing facility is the better option.
  • Nursing Home or Assisted Living: If you or your loved one need long-term, skilled care services, and assistance with activities of daily living, then a nursing home is the better choice.

Care providers

If a patient has acute medical needs, they will generally go to a skilled nursing setting. There are doctors, nurses, therapists, and other licensed health professionals already on staff to provide medical care as a patient recovers. Skilled nursing care is generally provided by licensed practical nurses or a registered nurse who has appropriate certification.

Nursing homes or assisted living facilities are designed for residents whose medical needs are less acute. Every day, professional care staff are there to support with activities of daily living and more simple medical needs like medication management or light physical therapy. Though highly trained, nursing home staff generally do not have the same level of training and certification as those who work in skilled nursing.

Location of care

Both nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities provide a place for people who need monitoring by health care professionals.

However, assisted living facilities are generally stand-alone buildings that operate independently, while many skilled nursing facilities may be either physically connected to a hospital or be associated with a hospital.

To make things more complicated, many assisted living communities will also offer skilled nursing care to residents. These are sometimes called "life plan communities" or "continuing care retirement communities".

The duration of your stay

Nursing homes, or assisted living facilities, are often the only option for people who can't live on their own. Stays in these facilities can be indefinite. Some nursing homes offer hospice or palliative care to very ill patients to help patients reach the end of life with dignity.

Skilled nursing facilities are, for the most part, meant for patients to recover and leave as soon as possible. 

Private health insurance coverage

Each person’s private health insurance plan is different. Your specific plan will determine how much coverage you have for either a nursing home or a skilled nursing facility.

Medicare and Medicaid sometimes offer some coverage for long-term stays at many nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities, but this can vary from state to state and on a case-by-case basis.

Learn more about Medicare for skilled nursing facilities

Learn more about Medicare for nursing homes

Cost differences: skilled nursing vs nursing homes

Now that we've explained the differences between skilled nursing care and nursing home offerings, it should be easier to understand the cost differences between these two types of care.

In general, skilled nursing care is more expensive, and can be attributed to the level of care provided, the qualifications of staff, the duration of care required, and the range of specialized services offered.

Skilled nursing facilities offer specialized services like rehabilitation, wound care, and IV therapy, provided by licensed nurses, which contributes to the increased costs compared to nursing homes.

On the other hand, nursing homes offer more basic care that doesn't require skilled medical intervention. Consequently, the comparatively lower level of medical care, combined with the long-term nature of the services, translates to a lower cost structure compared to skilled nursing facilities.

Finding care that fits

Understanding the differences between skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes can help us make the best possible decision for our loved ones. While both options provide essential support and a caring environment, they serve distinct purposes. Therefore, the option that's right for you or your loved one will depend greatly on individual needs.

Above all, the most vital aspect of this decision is prioritizing the well-being of our loved ones. By researching, visiting facilities, and discussing options with healthcare professionals, you'll be able to find a setting that offers care, support, and a nurturing environment.

Whether it's a skilled nursing facility or a nursing home, what truly matters is the comfort, safety, and security of your loved one. Rest assured, by doing your due diligence, you'll find a place with dedicated staff, a warm environment, and compassionate care for our cherished loved ones.

Ready to start your search?
written by:
Marlena del Hierro

Marlena del Hierro is Vice President of Partnerships and Seniorly’s Lead Gerontologist. Marlena earned her Master of Arts degree in Gerontology from San Francisco State University and her Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Development from California State University. She also serves in an advisory capacity for Jukebox Health. As Seniorly’s first employee, Marlena is a vocal advocate for evolving the aging paradigm, and is a frequent contributor to public discussions about aging. She has served as a resource for media outlets like WGBH, FOX News, CNBC and the Today Show.

To learn more about Seniorly's editorial guidelines, click here.

View other articles written by Marlena

Reviewed by:
Nipun Chopra

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