What’s the Difference? Nursing Homes vs. Skilled Nursing Facilities vs. Home Health


Florida Medical Clinic

If you or a loved one needs special post-acute medical care, you may be exploring your options when it comes to nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, and home health services.

These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but there’s actually a big difference in what each of them can do—and what private insurances and Medicare will cover. In this article, we break down what you and your loved ones need to know about nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, and home health care.

Definitions: Nursing Homes, Skilled Nursing, and Home Health

  • Long-term care facilities are often called nursing homes. These are facilities that provide long-term care for patients who need help taking care of basic daily needs, like preparing food and personal hygiene. Nursing home residents have access to 24-hour assistance provided by licensed professionals.
  • A skilled nursing facility (SNF) provides short-term, post-acute care after patients are hospitalized for a major injury, illness, or surgery. These specialized facilities aren’t hospitals, but they do provide medical care and resources for patients as they recover. At an SNF, in-house doctors provide medical care (such as medication management, pain management, and blood tests) while therapists provide rehab and therapy until patients are well enough to return home.
  • Home health care is when a clinician (such as a therapist or nurse) visits a patient at their home. Home health clinicians can do everything from administer medication, provide physical therapy, and check on patients’ general well-being. Home health is typically recommended for patients who don’t need round-the-clock care and are capable of meeting some daily needs alone or with the help of a family member.

Assisted Living vs. Nursing Homes

You might have heard about assisted living facilities when learning about nursing homes. Assisted living facilities are for people who need some help with daily needs, but not as much help as they would need at a nursing home. These facilities are sometimes called retirement homes.

Assisted living facilities are not covered by Medicare, but Medicaid may be able to help with some costs. Many assisted living facilities do accept private insurance, but this can vary from place to place.

What are the differences between all three?

Nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, and home health agencies help patients depending on their unique medical and living needs. While they all involve care from certified professionals, let’s review some of the ways they differ.

1. Different Levels of Medical Care

In the past, nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities used to be separate. But the landscape has changed—and now many facilities in the Tampa Bay area are dual-certified to provide long-term care and short-term skilled nursing depending on your specific medical needs.

At a long-term nursing home, full-time nurses, aides, and other staff can help residents with daily needs. But if a resident needs urgent medical attention, they’ll have access to physicians and other providers who can visit and provide skilled care.

Someone needs skilled care when they require attention or treatment from a licensed medical professional. Skilled care services include physical therapy, wound care, IV medication, and more. Your doctor will help determine if you need skilled care services.

For home health care, a clinician from a home health agency provides basic care (like checking blood pressure and temperature) right in a patient’s home. They can also change wound dressings, administer medication, and help with bathing. Licensed therapists can provide physical, speech, or occupational therapy.

2. The Location of Care

Patients stay at nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities to be monitored by health professionals. Nursing homes provide long-term care, so someone might stay at their nursing home for an extended period of time. Skilled nursing facilities provide transitional care with the goal of getting patients home after a few days or weeks.

For home health care, it’s exactly what it sounds like—patients can stay right at home with family. However, patients will need to leave home to travel to most doctor’s appointments.

3. Who Provides Care

Most nursing homes employ full-time nurses to oversee patients. Nursing aides and other staff members also help with daily living tasks, like bathing and exercise. Most nursing homes also provide access to doctors and nurses for patients who require specific medical attention.

Skilled nursing facilities have doctors, nurses, therapists, and other professionals on staff to provide more in-depth medical attention as patients recover. Sometimes, the doctor who oversaw a patient’s hospital stay will also see them at an SNF.

Home health care agencies often send certified aids, therapists, or social workers to visit patients. These professionals give one-on-one care to support patients living independently.

4. The Length of Your Stay

Nursing homes typically involve long-term stays for people who can’t live on their own. Stays can last a few months to a few years. Some nursing homes offer hospice or palliative services for very ill patients who need end-of-life care.

On the other hand, stays at skilled nursing facilities are as short as possible. The goal is typically no longer than 20 days (the length covered 100% by Medicare), but some patients may stay longer. The average length of a stay will vary according to an individual patient’s progress. While SNFs aim to transition patients to independent living as quickly as possible, they’ll continue to provide care for as long as a patient continues to improve.

For home health care, your doctor and your home health clinicians can help you determine how long you need home health care services. For some, that might be a few days or weeks. For others, it might be much longer.

5. Eligibility for Insurance Coverage

When it comes to insurance, your specific plan will determine what coverage you may be eligible for. Private plans, Medicare, and Medicaid all typically offer at least some coverage for home health agencies and long-term stays at many skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes.

If you have questions about your or a loved one’s coverage, talk to your social worker, contact your insurance company, or call a facility directly to ask what they accept. Click here to view Florida Medical Clinic accepted insurances.

Which is right for me or my loved one?

Your doctor can help you decide what kind of care is right for you depending on your individual needs. Ask them if you’re not sure or if you’re trying to help a loved one decide where to go.

  • If you don’t require daily medical services but you do need help with daily living in the long term, a nursing home may be able to meet your needs.
  • If you require a lot of care after a hospital stay (like physical therapy after a hip replacement or rehab after a stroke), your doctor may recommend you go to a skilled nursing facility. Your doctor will make this recommendation before you leave the hospital.
  • If it’s safe for you to live at home and you only need occasional care OR care for a short period of time, you may qualify for home health care.

Where do I go if I have more questions?

Your doctor can always help if you’re unsure of what’s best for you or your loved one. Homes and facilities usually offer tours for prospective patients and their families and can answer questions if you call.

Florida Medical Clinic patients and loved ones who want to learn more about skilled nursing facilities can call Katie North at (813) 255-3910. Our providers are here to support your health journey however we can.


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