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

Discover the difference between skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes. Seniorly explains the similarities and differences between the two.

By Lydia Bruno · Updated Aug 08, 2022
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In the past, when speaking of senior care services and healthcare, chances are you thought of a “nursing home.” Since nursing homes were one of the only options for senior medical care, the term “nursing home care” was thrown around quite a bit. The senior care industry is filled with many terms that sound similar. Understanding the terminology used in this field will help you determine which skilled nursing care options are best for your aging parent or loved one.

Currently, there are many options for senior care, such as  independent living, assisted living facilities, and skilled nursing facilities. Since “nursing home” became such a generic term, most seniors may have trouble understanding the different types of residential care for their care options and medical needs.

So, what is the difference between nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs)?

The main difference between the two is that a nursing home offers a permanent residence for people who need 24/7 care. An SNF is only a temporary residence for those that need rehabilitation. We will cover these both more in detail below. 

What is a skilled nursing facility?

A skilled nursing facility (SNF) is a short-term, rehabilitation-focused care facility. SNFs offer more comprehensive, rehabilitation-focused care than nursing homes. SNFs 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, which allows for more individualized attention and care. 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. 

As well as 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

What is a nursing home?

A nursing home, on the other hand, is long-term care in a licensed facility that provides around-the-clock care and assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing and dressing. They typically have 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

The type of care facility that is right for you or your loved one depends on the level of care and assistance needed. If you or your loved one need short-term, rehabilitative care, then an SNF is the better option. If you or your loved one need long-term care and assistance with activities of daily living, then a nursing home is the better choice.

If you’re still not sure which type of facility is right for you or your loved one, talk to your doctor or a care coordinator. They can help you assess your or your loved one’s care needs and make a recommendation. 

Let’s discuss the ways the two differ.

  1. The location of care. Nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities provide a place for people who need monitoring by health care professionals. Nursing homes provide long-term care so a patient would be living within the home for an elongated period of time. SNFs provide care contingent on when the patient gets better and gets to go home after a few days or weeks.
  2. Levels of medical care. Basic care in a nursing home may include help with ADLs, such as bathing, dressing, and eating. More comprehensive care may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. Nursing homes may also offer social and recreational activities for residents. SNFs provide treatment from a licensed medical professional. The services provided can include physical therapy, wound care, IV medication, medication management, and more.
  3. The duration of your stay. Nursing homes 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. SNFs are meant for patients to recover and leave as soon as possible. Medicare will generally cover up to 100 days in an SNF, so the goal is to get well and move on before coverage runs out, but some patients may have to stay longer. The length of the patient’s stay depends on individual progress. The goal is to transition patients back to independent living as soon as possible, but they will continue care as long as the patient requires it for improvement.
  4. Care providers. If a patient needs more medical attention than can be given in the hospital, they will go to a skilled nursing facility. There are doctors, nurses, therapists, and other professionals on staff to provide medical care as a patient recovers. Nursing homes are also designed with the patient in mind. Every day, nursing staff members made up of nurses and nursing aides work to ensure that all of their residents receive quality care and attention from an expert team focused on each individual's needs. Nursing aides are there to help with daily living tasks such as bathing and exercising.
  5. Insurance coverage. Each person’s health insurance plan is different. Your specific plan will determine how much coverage you have for either a nursing home or skilled nursing facility. Medicare and Medicaid sometimes offer some coverage for long-term stays at many nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities, it can vary from state to state and on a case-by-case basis.

There are clear differences between nursing home care and skilled nursing facilities. Nursing home care provides around-the-clock assistance with ADLs, while a skilled nursing facility is typically visited after a hospital stay and serves as more of a rehabilitation.  

You might hear others use the terms “nursing home” and “skilled nursing” interchangeably, but that doesn’t really match the public’s understanding of the term “nursing home.” Make sure you understand the differences while doing your research.

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written by:
Lydia Bruno

Lydia Bruno

Copywriter for Seniorly, with 5+ years experience in professional caregiving and senior housing
View other articles written by Lydia

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