See what type of care SNFs provide
By Marlena del Hierro, last updated August 8, 2022
A nursing home is a place for people who don’t need to be in a hospital, but cannot be taken care of at home. Usually these facilities have trained and certified medical staff on hand 24/7.
Although we often hear the term “nursing home” and think of group homes for the elderly, this is not technically an accurate definition of nursing homes. A nursing home provides nursing care for people who need substantial medical care on top of help with daily tasks: sometimes facilities that provide this level of medical care are called convalescent homes or Skilled Nursing Facilities (or SNFs). Most senior communities today, however, offer lighter levels of care, since this is all that most older adults need. Often, this lighter level of care is called “assisted living.”
So although the phrase “nursing home” has become synonymous with senior living in general, when you start your search for a home it will be a big help if you understand the most accurate terms for the level of care you or your loved one may need. We’ll explain the differences between nursing homes and other types of senior living options so that you can get off to a strong start.
If you’ve been searching for the best nursing home near you, there’s a good chance you’ve been mistakenly searching for the wrong type of care. The term “nursing home” entered our vocabulary sometime after World War II, when physicians realized that patients who needed long-term medical care were better off receiving it outside of hospitals. As time went on, we started to associate this phrase with group homes for seniors, but we also developed different types of senior communities that addressed a variety of needs, not just medical care. Although the public will use “nursing home” when they mean senior living in general, few senior communities use the term “nursing home” to describe themselves or the care they provide. Most will use the term “skilled nursing facility” if they provide nursing care.
Below we’ll explain what kinds of care SNFs provide and how they compare to other types of senior care.
A skilled nursing facility delivers the most extensive care available outside of a hospital. This care is provided by registered nurses and includes medical treatments and monitoring. This care is provided by registered nurses and includes medical treatments and monitoring. These medical treatments may include intravenous therapy, wound care, injections, catheter placement, to name just a few examples. Skilled care may also include services provided by other medical professionals, such as respiratory, speech, physical, and occupational therapists. A skilled nursing home is far more comprehensive than what you might have been thinking of when you searched for “nursing home near me.”
Skilled nursing facilities can be a great option if you or your loved one need daily skilled assistance to treat, manage, or observe a condition, and evaluate medical care. Skilled nursing facilities typically offer:
A SNF helps senior residents recover after a significant health event (such as a stroke or heart attack, or even planned surgery) while also offering a community where they can be with others who share similar experiences.
The average cost for a private room at a skilled nursing facility (SNF) in the US is $8,517 per month, according to the Genworth 2019 Survey. The cost of a semi-private room at a skilled nursing facility can average $7,513 per month. Note that this will change city by city and state by state.
Assisted living is residential care designed for seniors who are still fairly independent, but may require some general assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) like preparing food, dressing, and bathing (sometimes called “custodial care”). Often, when someone searches for a “nursing home,” they’re thinking of the type of care found in an assisted living community. Assisted living is what most seniors require for the longest period as they age. In contrast, a skilled nursing facility is designed for individuals who need 24-hour medical care, perhaps while recovering from illness/injury or surgery, or because they have debilitating physical or mental conditions.
Assisted living provides assistance with:
Skilled nursing offers all these and:
Home health care involves nurses and other medical professionals traveling to your home to provide daily medical care (not to be confused with in-home care, which is simple help with ADLs and other household tasks). As this involves licensed professionals traveling every day and bringing in medical equipment and materials, it is a service that can quickly become expensive. However for some seniors receiving home health care is the most comfortable option.
An independent living community is a senior living option for active adults that want to live in a community of other seniors while still enjoying their independence and privacy. Usually this is a gated community of homes and/or apartments available only to those 55 and up. Typically, there is no care offered here, unless it is an independent living neighborhood within a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC). If it is a CCRC or Life Plan Community, there will often be care available at the assisted living level and even the skilled nursing facility level, so that seniors can age in place there.
Memory care communities are senior living communities designed and staffed specifically for senior residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-related illnesses. Memory care communities will provide all of the ADLs and services provided at the assisted living level as well as a more structured environment, established routines, and a higher caregiver-to-resident ratio. These are all to help residents with memory and concentration issues be safe and, as importantly, to feel safe. However, they do not provide the 24-hour nursing care that a SNF can offer. SNF staff are often trained and equipped to handle patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s for as long as they need the added medical care, but SNFs are not designed or intended for long-term stays.
Inpatient rehab facilities (IRF) are intended for those who need a higher level of rehabilitation following traumatic injuries and surgeries. While they offer a similar set of services as skilled nursing, they differ in the intensity of their therapeutic services and care program.
More simply, rehabilitation centers are intended for acute care, while skilled nursing facilities are intended for subacute care (“acute care” refers to needing brief and immediate treatment for severe illness, injury, or recovery from surgery). It’s common for people who have been in an IRF to transfer to a skilled nursing facility if they no longer require acute care, but are not yet ready to return home. Some facilities provide both rehabilitation and skilled nursing care.
Skilled nursing facilities are generally intended for senior residents who need subacute medical care for non-terminal conditions. Hospice care provides end-of-life care and support for the patient and their loved ones. While skilled nursing care is focused on treatment and rehabilitation, hospice focuses on pain relief and comfort, it is not trying to cure the illness.
Fortunately, high-quality skilled nursing communities can be found all over the country, and they never shy away from answering questions. To get you started, here are some basic questions you can ask prospective skilled nursing providers.
Make sure you know the care and service requirements for you or your loved one to help determine the best skilled nursing facility fit. Your doctors can help you understand what type of care options to look for, and in some cases, a hospital social worker might be available to help you find and vet SNFs nearby.
Medicare Part A will cover short-term skilled nursing care provided in an approved SNF under certain conditions:
Medicare coverage for skilled nursing facilities can extend up to 100 days. To be covered by Medicare, care must be treating a hospital-related medical condition, or a condition that started while you were in a SNF for a hospital-related condition.
While skilled nursing often comes after you or your loved one has experienced some sort of unexpected medical event, if you realize that a SNF is in the near future, you should start discussing financing options to cover costs. In addition to Medicare, here are some ways that you or your loved one can pay for skilled nursing: