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The Difference Between Skilled Nursing Facilities and Nursing Homes

May 20, 2016

The Difference Between Skilled Nursing Facilities and Nursing Homes

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Although the terms are used interchangeably, there are actually several differences between nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs).

Since both of these care options provide overlapping services at times, it can be difficult to understand the exact benefits and requirements of each. Many times, nursing homes are freestanding buildings, and simply offer skilled nursing care in a particular wing of the facility. SNFs can also be found in hospitals, assisted living communities, Continuing Care Retirement Communities, and other certified locations.

The most notable differences between nursing homes and SNFs have to do with which entity regulates and certifies each facility and the level of staff certification.

Federal and State Regulations

There is currently no overarching regulation of nursing homes by the national government. Each state’s Department of Health in combination with federal authorities from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) oversee and regulate all aspects of each nursing home.

Nursing Home Regulations

Nursing homes are given inspections called “surveys,” used to evaluate any violations or immediate threats to patient safety and satisfaction. The nursing home administrators then assess these surveys to propose a “plan of correction.” If a facility fails to improve on any violation, there could be fines, reappointing supervisors, or suspension of new resident admissions or a facility’s license.

Skilled Nursing Facility Regulations

On the other hand, skilled nursing facilities are mostly regulated by the U.S. Department of Health and CMS, so there is a much more comprehensive approach to these facilities. This is mostly due to the fact that SNFs have consistent professional medical staff such as registered nurses and doctors, whereas a nursing home may only provide custodial, non-medical care on a daily basis.

Nursing Home and Skilled Nursing Facility Criteria

Nursing homes are designed as permanent residential areas for elderly individuals who have difficulty taking care of their activities of daily living (ADLs). Much of the services provided assist people with things like bathing, dressing, mealtimes, and other tasks younger people may take for granted.

It’s likely a nursing home will be staffed with certified professional health care workers, though it’s not guaranteed that registered nurses and doctors will always be present.

In contrast, skilled nursing facilities usually offer a much wider range of services and available medical options. Additionally, SNFs must have a transfer agreement in place in case a resident or patient requires emergency care, restorative, or rehabilitative services. This isn’t usually an issue considering that many SNFs are already located within the vicinity of a hospital.

Skilled nursing facilities are also much more likely to provide various senior rehabilitation services, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology. The staff of these facilities must also be professionally trained to administer injections and other procedures unable to be performed by non-medical personnel. 

How to Pay for Nursing Homes or a Skilled Nursing Facility

Most people move to a nursing home or SNF because it becomes too difficult to stay safe and healthy on their own. Conveniently, Medicare and Medicaid eligibility rely on 24-hour care being medically necessary in order to continue providing coverage.

Otherwise, paying for these nursing home options is possible through a long-term care insurance policy or from one’s own funds – just beware that this method can quickly drain a savings account.

Most people use Medicare or Medicaid to cover their nursing care expenses. These programs rely on an individual’s income and current assets falling within state-specific amounts. Be sure to check with your state’s Medicaid or Medicare offices for more details.

Veterans are also eligible to receive coverage for many types of long-term care, including assisted living, rehabilitative services, and even adult day care. Whether you have served the country in a time of war or had worked in another area of the armed forces, contact your local branch of the Department of Veterans Affairs to review your benefits.

Moving to a nursing home or a skilled nursing facility all depends on your specific needs and health conditions. You may find a better fit with nursing home care if you only need assistance with your ADLs. For more severe conditions that require greater attention, a skilled nursing facility could provide the appropriate care options.

If you are unsure which option is best for you, contact your doctor or physician to assess what services you’ll need now or in the future. Planning ahead and visiting a few facilities can put your mind at ease as you search for the perfect long-term care solution!

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Skilled Nursing Facility?

A skilled nursing facility (SNF) is a clinical care provider that offers 24-hour licensed nursing care. An SNF primarily provides services for residents requiring medical and nursing care and/or therapy services for rehabilitation. A licensed physician supervises each patient’s care and a nurse or other medical professional is always on-site.

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If I move to a nursing home, will I ever have privacy again?

This really depends on the type of living arrangement you choose. Nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities do offer private rooms, however, these are usually more expensive and limited in availability. While most residents of nursing homes do share rooms, you’ll still be given your own space for personal use. If you need absolute privacy during your senior care option, you may want to consider independent living, assisted living, or a CCRC.

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