What is a Nursing Home and Why is the Term Outdated?

Two seniors toasting with drinks over a meal in the senior living community dining room

Older adults and their family members have multiple options when it comes to finding support in order to stay healthy and active. In addition to independent living, assisted living, and memory care lifestyle options, seniors can also choose a community that offers more acute care in a more clinical environment. 

A skilled nursing facility, once referred to as a “nursing home,” offers around-the-clock nursing care for residents who need a short-term or long-term stay. Here’s what you need to know about skilled nursing care, including when you or your loved one might need it.

What is skilled nursing care?

The hallmark of a skilled nursing facility, sometimes shortened to SNF, is the ability for the community’s nurses to give skilled care. Skilled nursing care is any type of care that can only be given by licensed nurses and can include wound care, pain management, intravenous injections, or catheter care.

Skilled nursing facilities also offer on-site physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Although many assisted living communities also offer this perk, skilled nursing therapy is typically more intense and there are more sessions throughout the day and week in order to maximize recovery.

Who works in a skilled nursing facility?

There are many different professionals and clinicians who work in a skilled nursing facility. First, licensed and registered nursing staff lead the resident’s care team. There are nurses on staff around the clock in any skilled nursing facility. Working closely with the nurses are certified nursing assistants, or CNAs. These caregivers have been formally trained to perform caregiving tasks and to assist residents.

There are also physical, occupational, and speech therapists who work in a skilled nursing facility, along with their trained assistants. These members of the therapy team use their sessions to build strength, endurance, and flexibility in order for residents to meet their individual goals.

You can also find culinary professionals working in a skilled nursing facility. Residents enjoy three meals per day in a community dining room, and meals are carefully tailored to match any prescribed dietary needs. Skilled nursing facilities also have team members who support housekeeping, maintenance, life enrichment, social work, and more.

Not sure which type of senior living community is best for your loved one?  Choose between these lifestyle options.

Who lives in a skilled nursing facility?

There are typically two types of residents who live in a skilled nursing facility: those who will stay there for a short while and those who will live there long-term. 

First, those who stay in a skilled nursing facility short-term are there in order to recover before returning to their home. In most cases, these residents have been in the hospital for a planned procedure, like a hip or knee replacement, or for treatment of an illness, like pneumonia. In order for them to be more successful in their recovery, they need an “in between” spot to regain strength and confidence before returning home. Skilled nursing is that “in between.” Short-term residents are there to nourish their bodies, receive assistance and support, and participate in therapy sessions as they prepare themselves to return home safely.

For residents who need skilled nursing interventions and oversight in order to remain healthy and safe, they can live as a resident for a long-term basis. Long-term residents typically have complex medical conditions or needs that can’t be met by assisted living or other senior lifestyle options.

What can I expect of a skilled nursing facility?

Beyond nursing care and therapy, skilled nursing also offers services and programs designed to support residents who live there. Residents enjoy a dining program that provides three meals daily in a dining room setting, with meals that are prepared to meet any prescribed guidelines from a physician. CNAs and other team members are also there to assist with verbal or hands-on assistance during the meal.

Life enrichment programming is also a staple of any skilled nursing facility. Residents can choose what events and activities to attend, with options that include programs like group exercise classes, live entertainment, trivia, or even trips around town.

Finally, residents in skilled nursing also receive light housekeeping services. Friendly team members are there to tidy up their rooms and assist with any housekeeping or maintenance tasks.

How do I pay for skilled nursing care?

Short-term skilled nursing care is often covered by Medicare, as long as the resident has at least a three-night qualifying hospital stay prior to moving to the skilled nursing facility. Medicare will pay for 100 percent of costs for the first 20 days and then 80 percent of costs from days 21-100.

Medicare only covers 100 days per year, but these days do not need to be consecutive. For example, you might have a hip replacement and use 35 days of coverage in February and then use another 30 days after a hospital stay for pneumonia in November.

Skilled nursing can also be covered by long-term care insurance policies, depending on whether the community accepts this form of payment. Depending on the out-of-pocket costs and the needs of your loved one, skilled nursing can be quite expensive.


Is it time to get help for you or your loved one? Take our 4-minute assessment to get more detail on the right direction for you.

Take the Assessment


What’s the difference between skilled nursing and assisted living? 

Skilled nursing facilities aren’t the same as assisted living communities, though they both do serve older adults who need some type of additional support or assistance. However, many seniors can benefit from the amenities and lifestyle offered at an assisted living community over a more clinical skilled nursing facility.

As long as you or your loved one don’t need skilled care services, assisted living could be a better solution. Assisted living communities are designed to enhance independence, providing just the right amount of assistance from caregivers. These communities are just like home, with residents living in modern, updated apartments that residents don’t share. Residents can connect with new neighbors and make friends easily over a cup of coffee in the bistro, a shared meal in the dining room, a card game in the library, or during a shopping trip. 

Unlike skilled nursing facilities that are rooted in complex skilled nursing care, assisted living communities focus on overall wellness. Assisted living provides support and assistance as well as healthy meals, opportunities for new friendships, and a more personalized, relaxed lifestyle.  

Often, skilled nursing facilities and assisted living communities work together to offer a continuum of care for residents who need it. For example, an assisted living resident might schedule a hip replacement surgery and need skilled nursing care for a few weeks before returning back to their assisted living home. Before their return to assisted living, the assisted living team will work closely with the discharge planners at the skilled nursing facility to ensure the resident is strong and ready to come home. Then, once they’re back at their assisted living home, the resident can continue with outpatient physical or occupational therapy on-site at the assisted living community.

Senior living communities are much more than a nursing home. 

Not only has the name “nursing home” been retired in the senior living industry, but so has the antiquated view of a hospital-like setting, bad food, and boring days. Today’s senior living lifestyle options are varied and offer vibrant events, a sense of community among neighbors, and an active, maintenance-free lifestyle.

Using the right terms will not only help you research senior living options near you, but it will also remind you and your loved one that senior living is just that: living life to the fullest with just the right amount of support personalized to your needs.

The more you know about senior living lifestyle options, the better you can find a community that meets your needs and preferences. Learn more about senior living by visiting our comprehensive Where to Start page.

Where to Start

Ready to see the community?

Schedule a Tour

LifeStyle_800x800-1 1