Skilled Nursing vs Nursing Home and Their DistinctionsSkip to content

Skilled Nursing and Nursing Homes: How do they Differ

Published: Dec 29, 2022. Last Updated: Jan 5, 2023.

Nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) are two different types of care facilities that may sound similar but actually provide different services that cater to different types of needs. It can be confusing to know which type of facility is right for you or a loved one, so here’s a comprehensive guide to the key differences between the two facilities.

What is Skilled Nursing?

Skilled nursing facilities, also called SNFs, are short-term residences that provide medical and rehabilitative services due to illness, injury, or surgery. They are typically recommended for elders who need a short-term stay to recover from medical issues and/or to receive specific therapies and other specialized treatments.

SNFs generally provide 24-hour medical and nursing care, as well as therapeutic services such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Patients in an SNF require intensive medical care than those in a traditional nursing home. Skilled nursing is facilitated by licensed professionals and regulated by the state in which they operate.

What is a Nursing Home?

A nursing home is a long-term residential care facility for elders who can no longer fully take care of themselves due to physical, cognitive, or psychological impairments. Nursing homes offer 24-hour nursing care, as well as opportunities for social and recreational activities. This might include help taking medications or managing chronic conditions, in addition to custodial care.

The amount of care needed from nursing homes can vary greatly depending on the seniors health and abilities. Some may only require periodic nursing services or therapies, while others may need extensive help around the clock. Nursing homes are a suitable option for elders who require more comprehensive care than what assisted living communities or home care can provide.

The Distinction

Still confused? Read on to know more about what sets them apart from each other.

1 Focus and Level of Care

One obvious distinction between a Skilled Nursing Facility and a nursing home is the primary focus and level of care they each provide. Skilled nursing facilities focus on providing medical and/or rehabilitative services such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy and other specialized treatments, along with day-to-day custodial care. Residents from SNFs usually require attention or treatment from a licensed professional.

The main objective of Nursing Homes is to give older adults a safe place to live and receive custodial care. Custodial care encompasses helping with activities of daily living, for example getting dressed or taking a shower. Although residents also have access to medical assistance, that is not the primary concern of nursing homes.

2 Length of Stay

Another important difference between SNFs and Nursing Homes is the length of stay.

Seniors in Skilled Nursing Facilities usually live there for a limited time, often until they have recovered from an injury or sickness, or finished their rehabilitation program. The average length of each patient's stay is 20 days, which Medicare pays for in full, but some may stay longer. The average length of stay differs based on the rate of progress. SNFs actually try to transition patients to independent living as quickly as possible.

Nursing Homes, on the other hand, are more suitable for long-term care. For elders who cannot live on their own, nursing homes provide long-term stays that can last anywhere from a few months to several years. In addition, some nursing homes also offer hospice or palliative care for patients nearing the end of their lives.

3 Staffing Profiles

Finally, the staffing profiles of SNFs and nursing homes also differ significantly. Skilled nursing facilities are staffed with a variety of medical professionals who work together to create individualized care plans for each patient depending on their specific needs.

The staff at most skilled nursing facilities typically include:

  • Registered nurses
  • Licensed practical/vocational nurses
  • Speech/language pathologists
  • Audiologists
  • Physicians
  • Physical and occupational therapists
  • Medical directors

Nursing homes, on the other hand, are staffed with certified nursing assistants and registered nurses who help provide custodial care. Nursing homes have full-time nurses to manage patients, while nursing aides and other staff help with activities of daily living, such as bathing and working out. Most nursing homes allow patients to see doctors or nurses if they need specific medical attention.

Types of Skilled Nursing Care

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy helps patients develop, maintain and restore maximum movement and function. It is provided to help elders who have conditions that limit their ability to move and perform activities of daily living on their own. Skilled nursing facilities offer physical therapy under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy assists patients with learning or relearning skills necessary for activities of daily living that may have been lost due to an injury, illness, or disability. The primary goal is to help patients achieve independence.

Speech and Language Therapy

Speech-language therapy helps patients to improve their communication skills. It is provided to help seniors express themselves, understand others, and participate in social activities. Skilled nursing facilities often employ speech-language pathologists to provide this type of therapy.

Respiratory Therapy

Respiratory therapy is provided to improve the patient’s breathing and lung function. It is prescribed for seniors with conditions such as asthma, COPD, and cystic fibrosis.

Does Medicare Cover Costs in Skilled Nursing or Nursing Homes?

In most cases, Medicare will cover some of the costs associated with a stay in a skilled nursing facility or nursing home. Coverage is based on medical necessity, not the ability to pay.

Medicare Part A covers skilled nursing facility stays for up to 100 days after a qualifying hospital stay. The first 20 days are covered by the Part A deductible, and then you pay a share of the cost per day until you reach the 100-day limit. After that point, you would be responsible for the full cost of your stay.

Furthermore, Medicare does not cover long-term custodial care in a nursing home, though it does continue to cover medical care for nursing home residents. Medicaid and other private long-term health insurance offer coverage for custodial care needs.

Related Articles

About the Author

Ericka Nicolas

Writer & Researcher

Elder Guide LLC

Ericka Nicolas began her career in the banking industry where she learned the importance of being detail-oriented and well-organized, both of which she applies to her current work as a writer and proofreader. With her vast experience in writing, Ericka is able to produce well-researched and engaging content that appeals to Elderguide's target audience. She was able to provide readers with valuable insights on a variety of topics and ensures that all the information she provides is accurate and up-to-date. She takes the time to carefully study each topic given to her, which allows her to produce truly informative articles. Ericka's passion for writing and her dedication to producing quality content gave way to her goal of helping our readers navigate the complex world of senior living and make informed decisions about their future. Aside from her work at Elderguide, Ericka enjoys spending time with her newly-married husband and their dog, Yari. She loves cooking, traveling, and exploring new restaurants in her spare time.