Skilled Nursing Facilities and Nursing Homes: What’s the Difference?

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Many use the terms “skilled nursing facility” and “nursing home” interchangeably. However, they are separate care facilities. Although skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes appear similar, they have fundamental differences, including the level of medical care they provide.

While nursing homes are long-term residential facilities that serve people with chronic illnesses, skilled nursing homes are centers for rehabilitation and treatment. Nursing homes are suitable for long-term residents, while skilled nursing facilities support short-term recovery from acute medical conditions.

The duration of the stay; duration of stay

How long a person must stay in a facility can determine whether they go to a nursing home or a skilled nursing facility. People generally stay in nursing homes longer than in skilled nursing facilities. Many older people move permanently into nursing homes. Those in skilled nursing facilities tend to stay for less time and then return home or receive long-term care.

According to the National Care Planning Council, people who enter nursing homes stay on average for more than two years. The average stay in a skilled nursing facility is about one month.

Skilled nursing

Aside from length of stay, a significant difference between skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes is the type of care available. Skilled nursing facilities specialize in meeting the unique medical needs of residents.

Skilled nursing requires qualified practitioners with advanced training and specific certifications. Licensed healthcare professionals work in skilled nursing facilities, including:

  • Registered Nurses (RNs)
  • Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs)
  • Speech therapists
  • Physiotherapists and Occupational Therapists

Depending on the type of care you need, note that you can also obtain skilled nursing services in other settings, including your home and nursing homes.

Types of Care Available at Skilled Nursing Facilities

People with serious accidents, such as falls, may need acute care in a trained nursing facility. Others may go to skilled nursing facilities to receive treatment for serious illnesses like cancer. People may also need to stay in a skilled nursing facility while recovering from surgery.

Types of care available at skilled nursing facilities include:

  • physical therapy
  • occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Wound care
  • Intravenous therapy
  • Injections
  • Catheter maintenance
  • Medical supervision

As part of medical care, specialized medical equipment is available at skilled nursing facilities.

Retirement homes

When people can no longer safely live in their homes and need help with daily living, they may choose to move into a retirement home. Nursing homes also provide activities for residents, such as social events, shopping trips, and access to religious services. Day and night, residents have access to nursing services.

However, unlike specialized care facilities, retirement homes do not provide medical care that meets the specific needs of all residents. Nursing home residents with specific medical needs often visit health facilities for care. Family members can drive residents to appointments or use transportation services to access medical care that meets their specific needs.

Also, although registered nurses work in nursing homes, fewer licensed professionals may be available to residents of this type of facility.

Learn more about choosing and evaluating nursing homes.

Help with daily living

Skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes provide 24-hour assistance with daily living, including:

  • Shower and bath
  • Dress
  • Cooking and meals
  • Personal hygiene
  • While walking
  • Mobility
  • Getting in and out of bed
  • Getting in and out of a wheelchair

Last modification: 09/13/2022


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