Skilled Nursing Facilities vs. Nursing Homes: What's the Difference?

Nurse helps senior woman with walker.Many use the terms “skilled nursing facility” and “nursing home” interchangeably. However, they are separate care facilities. Although skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes sound similar, they have fundamental differences, including the level of medical care they provide.

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

Duration of Stay

How long a person needs to stay at a facility can determine whether they go to a nursing home or a skilled nursing facility. People usually remain in nursing homes for longer durations than in skilled nursing facilities. Many older adults move into nursing homes permanently. Those in skilled nursing facilities tend to stay for shorter periods of time and then move back home or into long-term care. 

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

Skilled Nursing

In addition to the length of stay, a significant difference between skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes is the type of care available. Skilled nursing facilities specialize in addressing residents’ unique medical needs.

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

  • Registered nurses (RNs)
  • Licensed practical nurses (LPNs)
  • Speech and language pathologists
  • Physical and occupational therapists

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

Types of Care Available in Skilled Nursing Facilities

Individuals who have severe accidents, such as falls, might need short-term care in a skilled nursing facility. Others may go to skilled nursing facilities to receive treatment for severe illnesses like cancer. People might also need to stay in a skilled nursing facility when recovering from surgery.

Types of care available at skilled nursing facilities include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Wound care
  • Intravenous therapy
  • Injections
  • Catheter care
  • Medical monitoring

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

Nursing Homes

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

However, unlike skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes do not offer medical care that meets all residents’ specific needs. Residents at nursing homes with specific medical needs often travel to healthcare facilities to receive care. Family members can drive residents to appointments, or they may use transportation services to access medical care that meets their unique needs.

In addition, while registered nurses work in nursing homes, fewer licensed professionals might be available to residents in this type of facility.

Learn more about choosing and evaluating nursing homes.

Assistance With Daily Living

Both skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes provide round-the-clock assistance with daily living, including:

  • Showering and bathing
  • Getting dressed
  • Cooking and meals
  • Personal hygiene
  • Walking
  • Mobility
  • Getting in and out of bed
  • Moving in and out of a wheelchair