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What’s the Difference Between a Skilled Nursing Facility and a Nursing Home?

Posted on May 11, 2022

Although the terms are similar, skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes are, in fact, different. And while it’s common to find care facilities that operate as both, at the end of the day, it comes down to two distinct levels of care services.

If you’re unsure about what’s offered at skilled nursing facilities versus nursing homes, or which level of care you or a loved one needs, read on to learn more.

What is a skilled nursing facility?

Skilled nursing care is exactly what it sounds like: care provided by licensed nurses in a medical setting under a doctor’s supervision. Essentially, skilled nursing is what you experience during a hospital stay, just in a separate facility.

Often, patients will enter skilled nursing care straight from the hospital to recover from an illness, injury or surgery, with the ultimate goal of getting well enough to go home.

Additional skilled nursing facility services include:

  • Licensed physical, occupational or speech rehabilitation
  • Wound care
  • Regular monitoring of vitals (blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar)
  • IV therapy

If you need 24-hour-a-day, specialized care over a short period of time, skilled nursing care is the solution for you.

What is a nursing home?

Nursing home care is provided 24/7 by licensed nurses and nurse aides under the supervision of a registered nurse. 

In a nursing home, residents benefit from what’s often referred to as “custodial care,” which focuses on activities of daily living, like dressing, bathing, eating, medication management and transportation.

In short, nursing homes are senior living solutions for those seeking long-term care and residency because they’re unable to manage their own healthcare needs. The ultimate goal for nursing home care is to provide residents with comfort and safety as they navigate chronic physical, cognitive or behavioral issues, including:

  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Epilepsy

Four major differences between skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes

Now that you understand the basics of skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes, let’s highlight the major differences so you can make an informed decision. 

1. Length of stay.

  • Skilled nursing care is typically short-term, specialized care. 
  • Nursing home care is long-term, comprehensive care.

2. Patient goals.

  • Skilled nursing care operates with the goal of recovery and getting patients well enough to go home or transition to an assisted living situation. 
  • Nursing home care operates with the goal of keeping residents as healthy and comfortable as possible while managing chronic conditions and activities of daily living.

3. Care personnel.

  • Skilled nursing care is provided by licensed nurses under the direct supervision of a doctor.
  • Nursing home care is provided by licensed nurses and nursing aides under the supervision of a registered nurse.

4. Insurance coverage and cost.

Medical insurance plays a large part in different senior living settings, from skilled nursing to assisted living facilities to nursing homes.

  • Skilled nursing care is intended to be temporary and therefore is at least partially covered by Medicare and Medicaid insurance. 
  • Nursing home care is meant to be a long-term, permanent residence, so it’s typically not covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

There are always exceptions to medical coverage, depending on your specific insurance plan and the state where you reside. For example, Medicare Part A will partially cover up to 100 days in skilled nursing after a qualified hospital stay, the first 20 days covered by your deductible.

Medicare will not cover long-term custodial care in a nursing home, but it may cover medical care. Medicaid or another private insurance provider may cover both custodial and medical care.

It's important to contact your insurance provider to understand your coverage.

Skilled nursing facility vs. nursing home: Which option is right for you or your loved one?

Entering into a skilled nursing facility versus a nursing home ultimately comes down to the level of care that is needed and the patient’s prognosis.

If you or a loved one needs short-term help to recover from an illness or surgical procedure and care can’t be easily managed with home health or on your own, skilled nursing is the best solution for you. It provides a course of action to recover from a specific diagnosis.

If you or a loved one is declining in health and can no longer manage chronic conditions or activities of daily living like bathing, dressing or eating, nursing home care is the best solution.

Discuss options with your doctor and insurance provider, and make sure to carefully research skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes in your area to make the best decision for you.

Discover skilled nursing at The Highlands

We are a Five-Star Medicare-Certified Skilled Nursing Center proud to offer compassionate care. Skilled nursing residents at The Highlands at Wyomissing can recover with dignity and are able to enjoy top-notch amenities and activities during their entire stay.