Skilled Nursing vs. Nursing Home: What’s the Difference?

Seniors above 65 years old have a 70% chance of needing long-term care services to live a long and healthy life. Skilled nursing and nursing homes are common pieces of a long-term care plan and services that many seniors receive. 

Although these terminologies may look similar, the services and level of care they provide have key differences. Understanding what each type of care will help you or your loved one properly evaluate care options and plan for the future.

Read on for an in-depth explanation of skilled nursing and nursing homes and learn their differences.

What Is the Difference Between a Nursing Home and Skilled Nursing?

While some people use “nursing home” and “skilled nursing” interchangeably, and they have some similarities, they are two different types of care. In general skilled nursing facilities provide a higher level of care to residents who typically have a shorter residency than nursing home residents.

Nursing homes provide a more long term solution to the needs of the elderly. Skilled nursing, on the other hand, provide short-term intensive medical services, usually provided after an illness, surgery, or injury.

What Is a Nursing Home?

A nursing home is a residential long-term care facility that specifically provides long term custodial care and limited medical care to the elderly or disabled. Unlike assisted living facilities, nursing homes typically have licenses to administer medical assistance and employ Registered Nurses (RNs). An RN will supervise licensed practical nurses and nurse aides. 

It is worth noting that a single facility may offer both nursing home (custodial) care as well as skilled care, but these are still distinct levels of care.

What Is the Goal of a Nursing Home?

Nursing homes aim to provide assistance with activities of daily living for residents as well as limited medical care. This could include stabilizing their medical conditions, preserving dignity, and keeping them comfortable.

What Type of Care Is Provided at a Nursing Home?

At nursing homes, the primary services offered are 24-hour supervision, assistance with daily activities – also referred to as personal care or custodial care -, three meals a day, and some limited medical or nursing care services. Some nursing homes will provide more specialized care such as occupational therapists, physical therapists, and other specialized types of care from licensed medical specialists.

How Much Does a Nursing Home Cost?

The average cost of a private room in a nursing home is about $290 per day. Semi-private rooms in nursing homes cost about $255 per day. The overall costs you pay may depend on services provided, time of stay, location, and any special conditions needed.

Related: Cost of Nursing Home vs In-home Care

Does Medicare Cover Nursing Homes?

Medicare does not typically pay for long-term nursing home care, though it may be covered by your state’s medicare program. While Medicare will not cover typical custodial or residential care (help with activities of daily living), Medicare covers skilled nursing services in a nursing home (details). If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan (Also called Part Medicare coverage), your plan may cover nursing home care; you will need to check your plan’s coverage details.

What Is Skilled Nursing?

Skilled nursing is typically short term medical care given to older patients who have undergone an injury, surgery, or illness. Care is often overseen by a doctor supervising a licensed nurse or other qualified medical professionals.

Similar to nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities provides 24-hour supervision and medical care. The care given can sometimes include rehabilitation services such as occupational, speech, and physical therapies. 

Related: Skilled Nursing vs Assisted Living

What Is the Goal of Skilled Nursing?

As skilled nursing is a temporary measure, the goal for this kind of facility is rehabilitative care. A patient’s recovery and return home (or to other permanent residence such as an assisted living community or nursing home) is the main focus. 

What Type of Care Is Provided by Skilled Nursing?

Skilled nursing facilities will provide higher level of care by skilled nurses to patients than offered by most assisted living facilities. These type of services include:

Speech Therapy – This helps solve swallowing dysfunction and communication services. Speech specialists come up with a treatment plan for the patient to use in speech therapy. Under skilled nursing care, the nurses ensure that you or your loved one follows the plan to get better.

Physical Therapy – This therapy comes after hospitalization, illnesses, surgery, or after being in rehab. It also has a personalized plan to help quicken recovery and avoid recurring issues.

Occupational Therapy – These are therapies for activities like coordination exercise, getting dressed, and memory training. They help the patient adapt to the physical and social environment.

How Much Does Skilled Nursing Care Cost?

The cost of skilled nursing care varies from state to state. The average cost in most states ranges between $271 – $399 per day. 

Does Medicare Cover Skilled Nursing?

Medicare part A covers skilled nursing for the first 100 days for eligible beneficiaries. The first 20 Additionally, it covers skilled nursing if a doctor orders it. However, Medicare part B does not cover skilled nursing even if it is doctor recommended.

Can You Get Skilled Nursing Care at Home? 

Yes. You can hire a skilled or registered nurse to visit you at home and offer professional nursing care services. If you have Medicare Part A or Part B or both, it will cover these services.

Can You Get Skilled Nursing Care in Assisted Living?

Yes. There are skilled nurses in assisted living who provide nursing care services to patients. When in assisted living, you can pay for skilled nursing using Medicare if you meet other qualifications.

Related: Nursing Homes vs Assisted Living

What are Examples of Skilled Care Nursing?

Examples of skilled care nursing include:

  • Wound care
  • Catheter care
  • Intravenous (IV) therapy
  • Injections
  • Monitoring of medical equipment and vital signs

What Is Considered a Skilled Nursing Need?

A skilled nursing need is a patient’s need for treatment that a qualified and registered nurse can only provide. This care is often needed for several days or months.


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