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Navigating Elder Care: Understanding the Differences Between Nursing Homes and Skilled Nursing Facilities

Published by Harmony Lab & Safety Supplies on May 02, 2024

Navigating Elder Care: Understanding the Differences Between Nursing Homes and Skilled Nursing Facilities


Choosing the right care facility for an elderly loved one involves understanding the nuances between nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities. While they may appear similar and some facilities offer both services, the type of care provided is distinct and serves different needs.

What is a Skilled Nursing Facility?

A skilled nursing facility (SNF) offers transitional care aimed at recovery and rehabilitation under the supervision of trained medical professionals. It's a setting where patients receive hospital-level nursing care from registered nurses and benefit from rehabilitative services such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy. This care is intensive and temporary, with the ultimate goal of preparing patients to return home after recovering from surgery, illness, or injury.

What is a Nursing Home Level of Care?

Conversely, a nursing home provides long-term residential care focusing on custodial care—help with activities of daily living such as dressing, bathing, and eating. Care in a nursing home is primarily provided by licensed practical nurses and nurse aides under the supervision of a registered nurse. Residents may also receive assistance with medication management and chronic conditions. The objective in a nursing home is to offer a safe, comfortable, and caring environment for individuals who can no longer live independently due to various health issues.

Key Differences in Services and Goals

  • Care Provided: Skilled nursing facilities focus on medical recovery with a team of registered nurses and therapists, while nursing homes offer custodial care geared towards supporting daily living activities.
  • Length of Stay: Residents in skilled nursing facilities stay for a limited time until they recover enough to go home, usually not beyond 100 days. In contrast, nursing home residents typically stay for the long term, often permanently.
  • Transitional vs. Residential Care: SNFs are transitional, helping patients move from hospital to home. Nursing homes are residential, providing a home-like environment for those who need constant care.

Medicare and Insurance Coverage

Understanding how care is funded is crucial:

  • Skilled Nursing Facilities: Medicare Part A covers care in SNFs up to 100 days after a qualifying hospital stay, with certain costs shared by the patient after the first 20 days.
  • Nursing Homes: Medicare does not cover long-term custodial care in nursing homes, though it continues to cover medical care for residents. Medicaid or private long-term health insurance might cover these costs, depending on eligibility.

Evaluating Your Loved One’s Needs

To make the best decision, consider the following:

  • Medical Needs: Does your loved one require intensive medical rehabilitation or assistance with daily living?
  • Duration of Care: Is the need for care temporary or long-term?
  • Financial Resources: What are your financial options, and what will insurance cover?


While skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes may operate under the same roof, their services cater to different types of patient needs. Skilled nursing facilities are best suited for those in need of temporary, intensive medical care, whereas nursing homes cater to those requiring long-term custodial care. By understanding these differences, caregivers can better decide which environment will best support their loved one’s health and well-being. Engaging with healthcare professionals and utilizing resources like the Eldercare Locator can further aid in navigating this complex decision-making process.

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