Check out our newest community, The Reserves of Idlewild, opening in 2022!

What’s the Difference Between Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing?

An Angels Senior Living employee spending time with a resident.

What different healthcare facilities in America are responsible for can be tough to understand. And those responsibilities continue to fragment over time. Fortunately, there are some simple guidelines to understanding the difference.

Level of care, expected length of stay, and cost are the three biggest differences between any residential care facility. Depending on the facility or the services you’re looking at, Medicare, the national health insurance program for Americans over the age of 65 or younger people with disabilities, could cover your costs.

Nursing Homes Are Now Skilled Nursing Facilities

Skilled nursing facilities are a new name for a familiar face: nursing homes. The differences between skilled nursing facilities, or SNFs, and assisted living facilities are sometimes hard to pin down. Skilled nursing facilities focus on providing short-term care and a high level of medical attention to patients, but longer stays are also common. Skilled nursing facilities offer substantial nursing care to residents compared to assisted living facilities. They also provide for “custodial care”, otherwise known as daily living activities like bathing, feeding, and dressing, similar to an assisted living facility.

If you’re in a skilled nursing facility, chances are you’re either recovering from an illness or surgery and require frequent specialized nursing attention, or you’re a long-term resident requiring around-the-clock nursing care. The average stay among nursing home residents is 485 days, and 57 percent of residents qualify as “long-stay” or have spent more than 100 days in a SNF, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Many different healthcare professionals visit skilled nursing facilities, including doctors, registered nurses, and therapists. The high number of visiting professionals and an elevated level of care typically make skilled nursing facilities an expensive option. However, if you require 24/7 professional nursing and rehabilitative care, skilled nursing facilities are perhaps your most cost-effective option. The cost of SNFs varies greatly, but you can expect them to run around $250 a day, or roughly $7,500 a month.

Skilled nursing is partially covered by Medicare depending on your length of stay and need for medical attention.

Assisted Living Facilities

Assisted living facilities – also known as ALFs – are residential health care facilities that offer a care experience emphasizing comfort and hospitality. Assisted living facility residents likely do not need the temporary or permanent skilled health care they would receive at a skilled nursing facility or nursing home. Residents may require assistance with their activities of daily living, such as meals, bathing, and dressing, and may require medication management or therapy as well as periodic access to doctors or nurses.

Assisted living facilities offer a variety of amenities that may not be available at skilled nursing facilities or nursing homes. However, the healthcare industry in general is shifting towards improving your experience by offering greater hospitality and entertainment options. Some of the amenities in our own Angels Senior Living Network include a large-screen movie theater, deluxe nail and hair salon, chapel, elegant private dining, and lovely gardens or other greenery for residents to enjoy.

If you’re in an assisted living facility, you’re likely in better health than if you were at a nursing home. The average length of stay in an assisted living community is around 23 months, according to a report on the State of Senior Housing produced by the American Seniors Housing Association. Roughly half of assisted living residents go on to require skilled nursing later in their lives.

Health care professionals visit ALFs, but not as frequently as they do SNFs. Therapists are extremely common in ALFs, usually offering physical, occupational, behavioral, and speech therapy depending on your needs. Attending physicians and nurses also visit communities to provide services to residents.

ALFs also offer services to seniors and other individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia in a setting called memory care. SNFs may also offer memory care to their patients. Memory care staff receive additional training, operate in specialized areas emphasizing security, and engage with seniors to help stimulate memory recall.

Assisted living facilities are a very popular option for receiving long term care. The median monthly cost for an assisted living facility is $4,000, according to the Genworth Cost of Care Survey 2018. Assisted living facilities are typically not covered by Medicare because they are largely custodial care. If you have a long-term care insurance plan or receive VA benefits, you may be able to eligible to draw from those plans or benefits.

Which Health Care Facility Is Right for Me?

Neither of these facilities, despite their similar identities and offerings in the marketplace, is an alternative to the other. Your needs and expectations determine the right facility for you. There are also a few other health care options available to you, like home care or in-home nursing, that could effectively meet your needs. To figure out which health care facility is right for you, talk to your doctor, consult with your family, and think about what you need.

Scroll to Top