If you or a loved one has an illness, you may need ongoing treatment from a medical care team. This care is usually delivered in a facility with 24-hour nursing staff working under the direction of a medical doctor. There’s more than one kind of nursing care facility, however, and knowing the difference between them can be crucial to getting the care you need.

The basic division in nursing care is between nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities. Despite their similar-sounding names, each plays a somewhat different role in providing therapy and other care services. This guide goes over the differences between nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities, including the types of care they provide, the likely cost differences and who should consider each type of facility. Here’s a surface-level overview of how these two care options compare:

Nursing Home

Skilled Nursing Facility


Nursing homes are oriented toward the long-term care of seniors and people with disabling physical conditions. 

Skilled nursing facilities focus on the short- to medium-term treatment (typically 30–90 days) of people just released from the hospital. Skilled nursing facility residents generally expect to return to their prior living arrangement after discharge from the facility.

Who Should Consider It

Seniors who need more ongoing supervision and care than an assisted living community can offer, but who do not need to be admitted to the hospital as inpatients.

Seniors recovering from injuries and other adults with a need for close medical care and rehabilitation services. 

Nursing Home

Nursing homes offer room and care for their residents, as well as many of the same lifestyle services as an assisted living community. Residents may have their own rooms, or they may share semiprivate accommodations. Nursing home facilities may be open or secured, some of them protected by electronically controlled gates and secure doors inside and out.

Nursing home staff can help residents with the activities of daily living, including hygiene and personal care, dressing and mobility assistance. Mental and physical therapy services are geared toward maintaining as high a standard of living as possible. Care plans are developed in coordination with residents’ own doctors. Personal services may include hair and beauty care, nail care services, wound prevention and care and limited transportation services for medical appointments. A member of the nursing home staff might attend to residents during trips to maintain 24-hour supervision. Health-oriented services offered by most nursing homes include:

  • Health services
  • Rehabilitative services geared toward maintaining physical, mental and psychosocial well-being
  • Medically oriented social services from staff social workers
  • Pharmacy services
  • Dietary assistance
  • Activities programs to keep residents engaged
  • Dental care
  • Housekeeping and maintenance services
  • Personal hygiene support
  • Specialized rehab treatment for mental illness or intellectual disability

Nursing homes usually have a number of amenities for residents to enjoy. While every facility has its own amenities, things you’re likely to find in a typical nursing home include:

  • Library
  • TV room
  • Garden and patio
  • Spa/Jacuzzi
  • Shared dining
  • Gym or fitness center
  • Onsite pharmacy and medication cart

According to the 2021 Genworth Cost of Care Study, nursing home care averages $7,908 monthly for a semi-private room and $9,034 for a private room. These costs vary considerably between states and between specific facilities. Government and private insurance may cover some or all of the expenses, depending on the details of the care provided and your provider. Costs not expressly included in your care plan may have to be paid out of pocket, especially nonmedical costs of lodgings and meals.

Skilled Nursing Facility

Skilled nursing facilities are designed around meeting the rehabilitative needs of people with acute care needs or during the initial post-acute phase of care, most often right after discharge from the hospital. A skilled nursing facility is likely to provide physical, mental health and occupational therapy, for which it may have dedicated rooms and specialized equipment. Skilled nursing facilities often have lifts and other safety and mobility equipment available for residents who need them.

Skilled nursing facilities are intended to provide care for only a limited duration, usually between 30–90 days. As a result, they tend to be less focused on amenities and more focused on recovery and therapeutic care needs. They may have a memory care wing attached for long-term residents with dementia, which is almost always a secure location with locking doors and windows to prevent wandering behavior. Services you can expect to find in most skilled nursing facilities include:

  • Treatment to maintain vision and hearing abilities
  • Ambulatory assistance
  • Wound care
  • Incontinence care
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Physician, emergency and other medical care
  • Speech pathology
  • Infection control
  • Transportation assistance offsite 

Some skilled nursing facilities have a doctor’s office on the property, which may have a doctor permanently in residence or on a part-time basis. Doctors can direct the treatment approach of the care team, including in-person supervision of treatment in the event of an emergency.

The cost of post-acute care varies around the country, and even from one patient to another. Medicare includes some benefits to help pay for necessary skilled nursing care, though there are time limits:

  • Days 1–20: Medicare pays the full cost for covered services. You
    pay nothing.
  • Days 21–100: Medicare pays all but a daily coinsurance for
    covered services. You pay a daily coinsurance.
  • Days beyond 100: Medicare pays nothing. You pay the full cost
    for covered services. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between assisted living and a nursing home?

Assisted living communities are not medical facilities, and as such their staff tends to be trained for providing help with daily tasks like bathing rather than medical or recovery services. Assisted living communities often resemble a homelike environment, and they tend to have more amenities than nursing homes.

What’s the difference between a nursing home and memory care?

Memory care is intended to help seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Many memory care units are often attached to assisted living or nursing care facilities, but they have specially trained staff and memory care therapists who have been trained in dementia care.

How long do people spend in nursing homes?

While time spent in a skilled nursing facility lasts as long as the residents’ rehab needs dictate, nursing homes are generally a long-term care plan. Seniors often move into nursing homes on a permanent basis, often with the intent to live at the nursing home full-time.