Skilled Nursing Facility vs. Nursing Home: Which to Choose

Micah Pratt
Researcher & Writer
December 12, 2019

Choosing a home is difficult enough, especially when you have medical issues. It can be even more frustrating when you don’t know the difference between each type of nursing facility. The terms “Skilled Nursing Facility” and “Nursing Home” are typically used interchangeably, but they are actually two very different things.

Today, we’re going to clarify the difference between skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes so that you can choose the best home for you.

What is a Skilled Nursing Facility?

 Now that you know what a nursing home is, it’s time to look at skilled nursing facilities. According to Medicare.gov, the term “skilled nursing facility” is used to describe health care that’s given when a patient needs skilled nursing care, like physical therapy and intravenous injections. You can see already that this is a much more specific definition than the one for nursing homes. Skilled nursing facilities offer daily medical services to their patients, rather than only non-medical, assisted living services.

Now there’s a reason skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes get confused for one another. Skilled nursing facilities can be, and regularly are, a part of nursing homes. These facilities have skilled nursing care, therapy services and/or related health services. Along with nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities are also found in hospitals.

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What is a Nursing Home?

Many people use the term “nursing home” to describe most living situations that provide medical assistance or assisted living. After all, nursing home is a popular term that’s been used for years. The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) defines nursing homes pretty generally: nursing homes are “a place for people who don’t need to be in hospital but can’t be cared for at home.” Most nursing homes feature nursing aids and skilled nurses, but note how this isn’t a requirement.

This means that not all nursing homes provide skilled medical services to their patients on a daily basis, so not all nursing homes are skilled nursing facilities. Nursing homes typically help their residents with activities of daily living (ADLs), like getting in and out of bed, dressing, using the bathroom, eating, bathing, and dressing. This type of custodial, or non-medical, care could be the only care you receive in a nursing home. And this type of care is not covered by Medicare because it can be given to you from a non-professional staff member, rather than a skilled nurse.

Should You Choose a Skilled Nursing Facility or Nursing Home?

 Now that you have a better understanding of what makes skilled nursing facilities different than nursing homes, it’s time for us to help you decide which will meet your needs best.

A nursing home is the better choice for you if you need help with ADLs because of physical, emotional or mental issues. If your care can be given to you by a non-professional staff member, you don’t need medical care from a skilled nursing facility. Unfortunately, this type of non-medical care is not covered by Medicare.

If you require skilled nursing, therapy or other medical services, you might need to find a nursing home or hospital with a skilled nursing facility. Those who need daily services from any of the following skilled nursing facility staff members to improve their condition, or need help maintaining their current condition or delay it from getting worse, should speak to their healthcare provider about living in a skilled nursing facility. According to Medicare.gov, skilled care covers the following (and more):

  • A shared room
  • Care from skilled nurses
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech pathology
  • Medical supplies

Medicare Part A covers the skilled nursing care from staff members above along with semi-private rooms, meals, medications, dietary counseling, and more in a Medicare-certified skilled nursing facility, as long as they are needed to meet your health goal.

Ready to lead a more comfortable life in a nursing facility? Medicare might be able to help! If you end up living in a skilled nursing facility, Medicare could help pay for up to 100 days of medical and living costs.

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Micah Pratt
Written by
Micah Pratt
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