Search for Skilled Nursing by ZIP Code:  :

What are Skilled Nursing Facilities?
Defining Nursing Homes and Skilled Nursing Facilities.

A Skilled Nursing Facility is a lot like a nursing home and many times the terms used are one in the same, but a true skilled nursing facility may offer more "skilled" medical expertise and services. Yet, a Skilled Nursing Facility provides skilled nursing care and/or rehabilitation services to help injured, sick, or disabled individuals to get back on their feet.

Whereas, a nursing home, an Intermediate Care Facility or ICF, provides a room, meals, and help for individuals with activities of daily living needs. Residents living in a nursing home usually have physical or memory problems that keep them from living on their own.

In terms of rehabilitation in skilled nursing facilities, hospitals make the arrangements for follow-up patient care after an acute hospital stay, like after a surgery. When released from the hospital, a patient transfers to the skilled nursing home to receive hands-on care from nurses. If a patient needs rehabilitation like physical of speech therapy, a patient receives the services until they're able to go home.

Defining Skilled Nursing Home Facilities

Services offered by nursing homes
Services offered by nursing homes

Licensed by the state's Department of Health Services, Skilled nursing care facilities have regulation and inspection requirements. Skilled nursing facilities provide care for patients who require intense skilled medical care.

Patients remain under skilled nurses and doctors care; who specialize in the care of the elderly.

Their expertise range in different types of care from Alzheimer's care, while others serve a broader based short-term care rehabilitation.

Here is a list of the short-term and long-term care offered by skilled nursing facilities:

  • Stroke Recovery - rehabilitation therapy, helping patients regain motor skills and speech functions.
  • Parkinson's Care - specific care required to attend advanced Parkinson's cases (does not apply for all facilities).
  • Custodial Care - helps patients with needs like bathing, dressing and eating.
  • General Wound Care - cleans wounds and administers antibiotics for infection.
  • Acute Medical Conditions - services offered to help cases where an illness, infection or injury threatens the patient's health.
  • Terminal Illness Care - services offered along with hospice care for people living with terminal illness and require custodial care and medical care.
  • General Rehabilitation - speech, physical, and occupational therapy and other services to help patients recover after an extended illness or invasive operation.

Families and patients choose skilled nursing facilities when a loved one requires:

  • Around-the-clock nursing care
  • Close supervision, if someone wanders off
  • Assistance with meals
  • Personal hygiene
  • Medications
  • Getting in and out of bed
  • Incontinence

Don't Buy into Hearsay and Myths

Over the years, skilled nursing facilities gained a bad reputation. Yet nursing homes play an important role in senior housing options. So, separate myths from facts., a thorough online resource for long-term care, lists the following myths of skilled nursing facility care:

If I can't take care of myself at home, a nursing home is the only option. It's simply is not true. There are many options for seniors and the elderly. Skilled nursing facilities fit those with needs that require very close supervision by nurses and doctors.

  1. Skilled nursing care facilities are for people without families living in close proximity. If you're a family member whose aging relative is frail and sickly, and you cannot give 24/7 care because you live across the country or have conflicting schedules, a skilled nursing facility will meet their needs.
  2. The staff operates the nursing home poorly and residents receive appalling care. Family members need to stay on top of the care given in one, but it's not true that all nursing homes provide poor care. More safeguards exist today and information about the facility on violations are available to the public.
  3. Once in a nursing home you'll never leave. Sometimes this is the case for terminally ill residents. But many people land in a skilled nursing facility after hospitalization to recover from a fall or stroke. After rehabilitative care, a patient may return home or to an assisted living facility.

When to Go to a Skilled Nursing Facility

When to go into a nursing home

If you're (or a loved one) faced with the decision to move to a nursing home, either you're battling with a worsening disease like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, or encountering an irreversible tragedy. It's a tough time. Learning about the housing options, how to pay for them, and a loved one's medical needs - weighs heavily on the right decision.

Here are few highlighted concerns that need your thought before moving into a nursing home:

  • How long ago has your loved one received a health assessment by a medical team? Before you make a final decision to move to a nursing home, make sure a medical team evaluates a loved one's needs to rule out a better housing option.
  • If a person is at high risk for falls or the medical needs are intense and require 24/7 care, a nursing facility is the best fit. But if a person's needs are custodial, then an assisted living facility is better.
  • Will the family be able to care for a loved one at home? If a loved one requires 24/7 care, it's hardly possible for a family member to handle that type of responsibility. If families come up with a well thought out care plan, you're able to fill the gaps by services like adult day care programs, home care services, and respite care. The nursing home serves as a temporary stay. It all depends on the medical needs of a loved one.
  • If one needs temporary care, family members can rotate on a short-term basis. But if the medical care intensifies, staying home can become too expensive.

A Quick Checklist to Find a Skilled Nursing Home

  • Get referrals - reach out to your local medical community and ask them for recommendations.
  • Get educated - check out long-term care online review sites. Dig into your state's data that rates nursing homes. Call your local long-term care ombudsman. More nursing home resources.
  • Get clear on the medical needs - who's best equipped to handle your condition? Is short-term or rehabilitation care needed?
  • Get clear on the distance - how easy will it be for family and friends to visit?

Checklist to use during a site visit


Visit the nursing home(s) you've selected. It's the only way to make an educated guess. Get to know the staff members, and residents living there.

Things to look for in the staff:

  • Does the facility have high employee turnover?
  • What does the staff schedule look like during the day and night shifts?
  • Are they friendly and do they spend time with you answering questions?
  • Can they manage the health condition?
  • How are medications and procedures arranged?
  • How are emergencies handled?

Checklist to use when visiting with current residents

Are residents happy? Do they mope around or do they engage?

Are they well-groomed? Are residents daily living activity needs tended to?

Do they respond to others? Attend a social event to gain a full evaluation.

What to look for in the nursing home facility:

Cleanliness - is the facility neat and clean?

Food - is the fool nutritious and appear appetizing? Are special diets accommodated?

Setting and placement - is the facility run like a medical facility? Does it have a nursing station? Of is it designed more like home?

Entertainment and activities - do they offer indoor and outdoor activities?

Medical condition specialization - is the facility able to handle the health condition of your loved one?

How to Pay for Skilled Nursing Care

Most people pay for skilled nursing care with Medicare or Medicaid benefits, health insurance plans.

Many patients who live in nursing homes permanently exhaust their personal finances at some point. When this happens, Medicaid pays for the nursing home care. Know: Medicaid does not pay all costs.

Medicare pays for skilled nursing care when:

  • The patient has a qualifying hospital stay
  • The doctor decides you need daily skilled care.
  • The nursing home's certified by Medicare.
Carol Marak
Carol Marak

After seven years of helping her aging parents, Carol Marak has become a dedicated senior care writer. Since 2007, she has been doing the research to find answers to common concerns: housing, aging and health, staying safe and independent, and planning long-term.