Nurse and a group of elderly patients sitting down and playing dominoes at a skilled nursing home

Skilled Nursing Facility vs. Nursing Home

One of the most difficult portions of caring for an elderly loved one is making the decision to enroll them in a nursing facility. While this can be scary for an entire family, nursing facilities are an effective way to ensure that your loved one gets around the clock care that they need.

But when choosing the right destination, there are a few different options. You’ll likely see the terms “Skilled Nursing Facility” and “Nursing Home” come up during your search. While they sound similar, these are two different types of institutions that are appropriate for different individuals.

So, let’s make your search a little easier and help clear the air. Here are the main differences between skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) and nursing homes, as well as when they’re appropriate for your loved one.

What Is a Skilled Nursing Facility?

Skilled nursing facilities are in-patient rehabilitation and medical centers. The staff in these institutions are trained medical professionals, and they are able to provide medical services to patients living within the facility.

Skilled nursing facilities are meant to provide around-the-clock care for those who need assistance with activities of daily living, to an extent that is impossible to achieve outside of this type of environment. 

While they may be permanent homes for some, they are usually temporary, with individuals remaining in them until they’ve finished their rehabilitation or treatment plan.

What Is a Nursing Home?

Nursing homes are institutions or communities in which older individuals can live while also receiving some help and care. Staff at nursing homes are not medical doctors. Rather, they are often nurses or nursing aides who help with the administration of medicines, as well as daily tasks of living like laundry, cooking, or light cleaning. 

Individuals who live in a nursing home are often independent enough to travel to their own medical appointments as long as they can cover their own transportation. Procedures are not offered on-site in these facilities.

Nursing home staff also often arrange leisure activities for the community, such as off-site scenic tours, exercise classes, or other sensory activities. These residential facilities are also designed to care for seniors who are cognitively impaired due to disabilities like dementia or Alzheimer’s.

What Are the Differences Between Skilled Nursing Facilities and Nursing Homes?

While both of these types of communities can offer care for your loved one, there are some key differences that are important to know before deciding which is right.

Level of Care

The main difference between these two types of facilities is that skilled nursing facilities offer medical treatment on-site, whereas nursing homes only offer custodial care. Skilled nursing facilities are often recommended for those who have undergone a severe surgery that requires them to receive 24/7 medical observation or those who will require long-term medical care while recovering from a procedure.

Additionally, physical therapists, occupational therapists, or other types of medical professionals can offer their services at skilled nursing facilities. In nursing homes, individuals still need to transport themselves to these appointments elsewhere.

Types of Patients

Seniors who are enrolled in nursing homes often have some sort of condition that makes it unsafe for them to live on their own. Often, those with chronic conditions like dementia or severe arthritis will live in nursing facilities so that they can have access to the assistance and care they need while still being able to maintain independence.

Patients within skilled nursing facilities may not have a chronic condition. Rather, they may just be recovering from an acute condition. After their stay in the skilled nursing facility, most individuals are discharged to nursing homes, assisted living communities, or their own homes.

Length of Stay

Since seniors in a skilled nursing facility only remain there until the end of the rehabilitation period, these are not usually permanent residencies. 

On the other hand, nursing homes act as more of a permanent home and community for their residents.

Activities Offered

Since nursing homes are permanent homes for their residents, these facilities or communities often offer more leisure activities to improve the quality of life of their patients. This allows seniors to maintain social skills and engage in healthy behaviors. Building a sense of community can be advantageous in avoiding feelings of isolation.

While skilled nursing facilities may still offer games, classes, or activities, there is less of a focus on community-building because the patients are constantly cycling in and out.

Which Is Better?

A skilled nursing facility is no better than a nursing home, and vice versa. However, they are both appropriate at different times in your loved one’s life.

It will likely be recommended that your loved one goes to a skilled nursing facility after a hospital stay. This is usually a better fit if they need to recover from the following medical issues:

  • Severe wound care
  • Stroke recovery
  • Terminal illness
  • Serious impairments to cognition
  • Rehabilitation after illness or operation

Nursing homes are a better option if your loved one requires around-the-clock assistance with daily tasks that are just too much for you as a caregiver to handle. These facilities have staff on hand 24/7 to help with these tasks while still ensuring that your loved one maintains their independence when possible.

Individuals often remain in nursing homes until the end of life, so this is also something to consider. Again, skilled nursing facilities are usually only temporary.

How To Afford Skilled Nursing or Nursing Homes

One of the largest challenges that you and your loved one may face when discussing assisted living options is the cost. Nursing homes can be costly, averaging over $8,800 a month for a private room.

With that said, many nursing homes accept Medicaid, which can significantly lower out of pocket costs that you or your loved one may be responsible for. 

Additionally, a type of insurance policy known as long-term care insurance can assist with payments in both skilled or unskilled facilities. Policies vary drastically, with some only covering the costs of certain services. However, this is a great option that can immensely lower the financial burden. 

Talking to Your Loved One About Nursing Homes

If acting as a caretaker is becoming too much, you may try to persuade your loved one into enrolling in a long-term care facility such as a nursing home or assisted living community. This can be a very difficult conversation to have.

The first course of action is to research options. Find some places that look like their facilities and features would be attractive for your parent or grandparent. Not only does this show them that there are quality options available, but it can also show them that you cared enough to put some time into the process.

It may also help to get your whole family involved. If your loved one sees that their behaviors or actions may be affecting those around them, they may be more inclined to agree. With that said, don’t point fingers. Keep the conversation light, and make it clear that your concerns are only in reference to your loved one’s wellbeing and safety.

When it comes time to select a location, make sure your loved one is an active part of the process. Be sure to have them tour facilities with you so they can have a say in the final decision. Many facilities now even offer virtual tours to make it easier for more people to get a sense of a community before setting foot through the doors.

Finally, if your senior refuses to leave home, it’s important to recognize the reasons why. It’s stressful and scary to think about leaving behind the memories and comfort associated with a home, and moving into a nursing facility is a lot easier said than done.

At-home skilled nursing is also an option. Visiting nurses can come to your loved one’s home multiple times a week or even daily to administer medication, help them with activities of daily living, or even just provide a listening ear. 

This can give you a much-needed break while also keeping your family member happy in their own home.

Are Nursing Homes Safe?

While nursing homes and long-term care facilities are a great option for many reasons, the existence of nursing home abuse may push people away from considering nursing homes as an option. These issues often arise due to issues like understaffing, burnout, and improper training. 

Warning signs that your loved one may be experiencing improper care include bruises, bedsores, fatigue and other sleep disorders, lack of personal hygiene, unexplained weight loss, depression, or anxiety.

Lightyear Health serves to fill in the gaps that many nursing facilities miss. From behavioral health to chronic pain management, our team of specialists is well-prepared to improve the quality of life for your loved one during their stay in short-term or permanent residencies alike.

We’re committed to redefining what it means to age. Get in touch with our team of representatives to find out how we can make assisted living and skilled nursing facilities a safer and more effective place to be.

In Conclusion

Hopefully, this has helped identify the differences between these two popular facilities, but here are the takeaways as a refresher:

Skilled nursing facilities:

  • Are temporary institutions that usually serve to rehabilitate individuals after an injury or illness. 
  • Offer medical treatment on-site
  • Have a greater focus on rehabilitation and treatment over recreation

Nursing homes:

  • Permanent communities where seniors receive around the clock custodial care to assist with activities of daily living.
  • Often require their patients to transport themselves to their medical appointments, though some facilities do offer assistance with transportation
  • Have a greater focus on recreation and community building

Either way, it can be difficult to have conversations with your loved one about living in a nursing home or staying in a SNF. It’s important to stay calm, have empathy, and include your family members throughout the conversation. 

The team at Lightyear Health are your experts in geriatric care. From behavioral health, to physiatry, to chronic pain management, we leave no stone left unturned. 

Find out more here about how we can improve you and your loved one’s quality of life.


Residential Facilities, Assisted Living, and Nursing Homes | NIH

Nursing Home Costs in 2021 by State and Type of Care | Seniorliving.org

How can I pay for nursing home care?  | Medicare.gov

Nursing Home Abuse – Common Signs, Types, & More | Nursing Home Abuse Justice

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