Nursing Homes: Cost, Benefits, & More

Key Takeaways

  • The term “nursing home” often refers to skilled nursing facilities (SNF) where seniors receive care from onsite medical professionals.
  • SNF’s provide the highest level of medical care outside hospitals, ensuring peace of mind for seniors and their families.
  • The term “nursing home” is outdated and broadly used, but SNF’s specifically denote facilities offering short-term and long-term specialized nursing care.
  • Often, SNF’s serve as temporary solutions for seniors undergoing rehabilitation.
  • Unlike the general term “nursing home,” nursing care facilities specifically provide skilled nursing and rehabilitation.

If you have been searching for a new living situation for an elderly loved one, you may have encountered many types of facilities grouped into a single general term of “nursing home.”

When people talk about nursing homes, they are often referring to skilled nursing facilities, or SNFs, where seniors live under the care and supervision of onsite medical professionals.

These facilities offer the highest level of medical care that you can find outside of a hospital, providing both seniors and their families with peace of mind.

About Skilled Nursing Facilities (Nursing Homes)

The term “nursing home” is used to describe any type of senior living environment, but it is considered an outdated term that nursing facilities rarely use today.

In this sense, when people talk about nursing homes, nursing home facilities, skilled nursing homes, or skilled nursing facilities, they are often referring to the same thing.

Skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), are a specific type of facility that describes both short-term and long-term senior care facilities that offer highly specialized and skilled nursing care.

In most cases, SNFs are meant to be temporary situations for seniors as they go through rehabilitation and therapy, with the intention of returning to their previous living situation once healed.

FAQs for Nursing Home Facilities

The term “nursing home” is considered outdated and is more of a general term that is used to describe any type of senior living environment, but does not refer to anything specific.

Nursing care facilities, on the other hand, usually offer skilled nursing and rehabilitation services to elders on a short-term and long-term basis.

According to Definitive Healthcare, there are roughly 18,700 active skilled nursing facilities in the United States in 2023.

The states with the highest number of skilled nursing care facilities are Texas, California, and Ohio.

According to Genworth Financial, the average cost of a nursing home in the U.S. is $7,900 to $9,000 a month.

This is significantly higher than the average costs of assisted living homes, as skilled nursing facilities offer the highest level of medical care possible after a hospital.

Nursing home care can be paid for in a variety of ways, but it’s important to remember that each home may vary in the types of payments or insurance plans that they accept.

Many people pay for nursing home care with personal funds, either through their savings, retirement funds, or pension payments.

What Do Skilled Nursing Facilities Do?

Skilled nursing facilities offer a variety of treatments and services, with individualized treatment plans to ensure that each elder is getting the specific care they need.

The main goal of SNFs is to both provide rehabilitation to seniors after a hospitalization from medical issues. They also provide those in need of long-term care with comfortable shelter and high-quality medical care.

Medical Treatment & Monitoring

Types of medical treatments provided can vary by location, but many skilled nursing facilities offer services like post-operative care and wound care, medication management and monitoring, and IV and catheter care.

In addition to treatments provided, the medical staff at an SNF can also monitor all patients for any worsening medical conditions and ensure that they are healing properly.

Assistance Services

Assistive services found in skilled nursing homes can range from mobility assistance and disability assistance to help with activities of daily living (ADLs).

Activities of daily living can include:

  • Help with bathing and grooming
  • Help with dressing
  • Assistance with using the bathroom
  • Assistance with standing up or other types of position transfer
  • Help with eating

ADLs are considered basic tasks that are needed for everyday living. Instrumental ADLs, or IADLs, are activities that are considered essential but which do not necessarily need to be performed every day, such as meal preparation and financial management.

Some IADLs can also be managed at skilled nursing facilities, and are often addressed through occupational therapy.

Physical, Speech, & Occupational Therapy

Many elders in skilled nursing facilities have experienced recent major health events, and may need help navigating their new physical or cognitive state.

Speech and occupational types of therapy can be especially important after an elder has experienced a brain injury or neurologic disease of any kind.

Physical therapies, on the other hand, focus on reducing pain for the patient and increasing their mobility.

Rehabilitative Therapy

Skilled nursing facilities can provide rehabilitative therapy for seniors who have recently undergone major surgery or experienced a major health event such as a stroke or heart attack.

This type of therapy can be both physical and mental, helping people to get back to the state they were in prior to their health event or surgery, or as close to it as possible.

Who Needs Skilled Nursing?

Seniors can benefit from skilled nursing environments for both short-term recovery and long-term care.

Senior Residents in Recovery

Seniors who are recovering from a serious event, such as a major accident or surgery, can find a lot of benefit in the short-term services offered through skilled nursing facilities.

This type of skilled nursing care is designed to be temporary and to help seniors in recovery to get back on their feet again, with the end goal of helping them feel well enough to return to their previous living arrangements.

Elders in Need of Long-Term Care

Some seniors have conditions that are serious and chronic, which require ongoing medical care for an indefinite period of time.

Seniors in these situations can benefit from long-term residential care in skilled nursing facilities, which can serve as permanent residences for those who need them.

Benefits of Skilled Nursing Facilities

Skilled nursing facilities can provide numerous benefits to elders who are in need of daily assistive and medical care.

Benefits of skilled nursing facilities include:

  • 24-hour care and supervision
  • 24/7 access to medical care in case of emergencies or injury
  • Social activities for seniors
  • Rooms and buildings that are accessible for various disabilities
  • Specially trained staff and caregivers
  • Access to specialized therapies and treatments
  • Personalized care and customized treatment plans
  • Easy access to therapists and social workers

The services offered at skilled nursing facilities can also help patients to heal faster and more fully, so they can focus on resting and spending time with loved ones.

Cost of Skilled Nursing Homes

Skilled nursing homes can be expensive when paid out-of-pocket, but seniors and their families have numerous options when it comes to paying for SNF care.

Medicare Coverage for Skilled Nursing Homes

Medicare does not usually cover long-term care facilities or skilled nursing homes, because these services are not considered medically necessary.

Medicare does, however, frequently cover short-term stays in skilled nursing homes that are considered medically necessary and for people who meet certain eligibility requirements.

In order to use Medicare to pay for nursing care, the elder must:

  • Attend a Medicare-certified SNF
  • Have documentation from their physician stating that they need short-term skilled nursing care

VA Coverage for Skilled Nursing Homes

Veterans who are enrolled in the VA health care system may be eligible for long-term care coverage, which is determined on a case-by-case basis with numerous factors involved.

In order to access this coverage, veterans will have to attend nursing homes that are either run by the VA directly or are VA-approved state organizations.

Other factors that can affect a veteran’s eligibility are:

  • Their service-related disability status
  • Local availability at an appropriate service center
  • Confirmation from the VA that the veteran needs ongoing medical treatment and care

Factors That Affect Skilled Nursing Facility Cost

Skilled nursing facilities can cost between $7,000 and $9,000 per month, and this number can vary significantly based on certain factors.

Factors that affect skilled nursing facility costs include:

  • Location of the skilled nursing facility
  • The type of skilled nursing facility and levels of care offered
  • The length of stay at the skilled nursing facility
  • Whether the elder is staying in a private or semi-private room
  • The time of year that the elder is entering the facility

Payment Options for Nursing Homes

In addition to Medicare and VA health care benefits, there are a few other options that seniors and older adults can also utilize when paying for skilled nursing care.

Other payment options for nursing care facilities include:

  • Medicaid — accepted at many nursing care facilities, though amount of coverage will vary from state to state and is based on individual income and personal resources.
  • Long-term care insurance — a type of insurance policy that can cover long-term care and which is offered to federal employees at discounted rates.
  • Home equity loans — elders who are homeowners can take out loans against their home’s equity in order to pay for nursing facility costs.
  • Life insurance — can be used in a few ways to pay for nursing home costs, including being sold for market value back to the insurance company or a third party.
  • Personal funds — a large portion of nursing home costs are often paid for with the personal savings of the elder or their family members.

Because paying for skilled nursing care often comes from multiple sources and requires some level of personal savings, elders are encouraged to start thinking about how to pay for their care in advance and as soon as possible.

What to Look for in a Skilled Nursing Facility

It is important to choose a skilled nursing facility where your loved one will feel safe and taken care of, and where you can feel confident that they are in good hands.

Every skilled nursing facility will have its own unique qualities and amenities that set it apart, but it is always crucial to look for certain marks of quality care.

Qualities to look for in a skilled nursing facility include:

  • National accreditations
  • High rankings or reviews on Google
  • Evidence-based treatments
  • Low staff-to-client ratio
  • Experienced and specialized staff members
  • Awards and accolades
  • Certifications and memberships

Accreditation & Licensing Requirements for Skilled Nursing Homes

According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), skilled nursing facilities and nursing facilities must be in compliance with the Standards and Certifications requirements set forth by the CMS.

State nursing home facility and skilled nursing home facility certification requirements include:

  • A Life Safety Code (LSC) survey: conducted to ensure the facility is following all safety regulations
  • A Standard survey: conducted to determine the quality of service provided by a facility
  • Certification of compliance: Awarded to a skilled nursing home or nursing home facility once the completed surveys have satisfied compliance requirements

In addition, skilled nursing homes may go the extra mile to obtain third-party accreditation through the Joint Commission to demonstrate a high standard of nursing care excellence.

10 Tips for Choosing a Quality Nursing Home

Choosing a nursing home for an elderly loved one is a very important decision, and should never be made without careful consideration.

The following tips can help guide you as you work on finding the right home for your loved one.

1. Write Down Your Questions and Concerns

It can help to write down all of your questions and concerns in advance before you visit a nursing home, otherwise you may forget during your visit.

Further, never be afraid to bring up anything that concerns you, even if it seems small and insignificant.

2. Schedule Facility Visits

You should never choose a nursing care facility for your loved one without first visiting the facility in person and taking a tour if possible.

If you can take your loved one with you to tour facilities, that would be even better, as they will be spending a significant period of their lives there.

3. Consider Your Elderly Loved One’s Needs

When choosing a skilled nursing facility for your elderly loved one, always consider their wants and needs in addition to your own. After all, they will be living there.

In addition to your loved one’s personal preferences, you must also consider what level of care they require.

For example, does your loved one need rehabilitative care, mental health services, hospice care, meal assistance, or daily assistance with ADL? Always do your best to match your loved one’s needs against potential facilities.

4. Ask for Referrals From Trusted Friends & Family Members

Talk to friends and family members who have experience with putting loved ones into skilled nursing facilities. Find out what their personal experience was like and if there is a specific facility they can recommend.

You can also talk to any healthcare providers that you trust for recommendations of SNFs in your area.

5. Examine Facility History and Staff Experience

The quality of a facility’s staff will say a lot about the quality of the facility as a whole. Look into the history and experience of both the nursing and administrative staff of any facility you are interested in.

During your visit, speak to staff members at all levels, including administrators, employees, and medical staff.

It is very important to meet with both the program director and nursing director in person, so check in advance if you need appointments with these individuals in order to speak with them.

6. Avoid Choosing a Facility Based on Luxury Alone

It can be easy to be impressed by luxurious and abundant amenities, but you should never choose a nursing home for your loved one based on amenities alone.

On a similar note, never assume that a skilled nursing care facility is of high quality simply because it is expensive or costs more than the average facility in your area.

7. Narrow Down Your Nursing Home List

Try to narrow down your choices for a skilled nursing facility to two or three top choices, and carefully consider each one.

Ask for your loved one’s input if possible, as they may have a personal preference that should be taken into consideration.

8. Re-Visit Top Facility Choices

If you have the time and opportunity, try to visit each of your top choices for a nursing care facility one last time before you make a final decision.

If possible, do not announce your second visit — this will give you a chance to observe how the facility operates in its natural state.

9. Take Time to Consider Any Contracts

Some facilities may require you or your loved one to agree to and sign a contract that holds them to the facility for a minimum or maximum length of time.

Make sure that you always read and review all contracts for nursing home residents carefully, and have a second family member look them over before you sign anything.

10. Carefully Weigh Nursing Home Costs

Skilled nursing home care can be incredibly costly, so it’s very important to consider costs when choosing a nursing facility.

Consider the costs for a skilled nursing care facility in both the short-term and long-term, and do your best to predict the length of your loved one’s stay so you have an idea of overall costs.

Skilled Nursing Homes vs. Other Types of Elder Care

Skilled nursing care facilities provide the highest level of care that elders can receive outside of hospital care, but this does not mean that it is always the right care option choice for everyone.

Seniors who are still high-functioning and independent will likely be more comfortable in types of elder care that are less comprehensive in terms of medical and personal care services.

Nursing Homes vs. Assisted Living Facilities

Assisted living facilities provide elders with supervision, care, and assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), but do not provide the same level of medical care and health services as skilled nursing care facilities.

Assisted living communities can be great options for elders who have trouble with ADLs but who are otherwise healthy and have no serious medical conditions that require everyday care.

Skilled Nursing Homes vs. Memory Care Facilities

Skilled nursing facilities and memory care facilities essentially offer the same level of care, but memory care facilities are specialized for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Memory care facilities have staff members specially trained in treating dementia and offer therapies that are effective with dementia patients, such as reality orientation therapy and validation therapy.

Nursing Homes vs. Home Health Care

In-home health care provides much the same level of care that an elder would find in a skilled nursing facility, but within the comfort of their own home.

In these instances, a registered nurse lives with the elder in their home, or spends the entire day there but lives off-site, and provides around-the-clock medical care.

For seniors who are relatively independent, a nurse or therapist may visit their home only a few times a week for in-home care.

Nursing Homes vs. Independent Living Communities

Independent living communities are what are often referred to as “55 and over communities”. They are designed for seniors who are still independent and active and want to be around other seniors who are also independent and active.

These types of communities don’t offer medical services or assistive services typically, but it is not uncommon for independent living communities to have small medical centers located within them in a central area.

Find Quality Nursing Homes Near You

Among the numerous senior living options available to elders today, skilled nursing facilities are among the best choices. This is especially true for elders who need short-term rehabilitation or long-term medical care on a daily basis.

If you need help in locating a skilled nursing facility near you or your loved one, browse through the directory of quality facilities located on our website.

Your loved one deserves the best care possible, in an environment where they can feel safe and protected, with their health and well-being a priority at all times. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us for help in finding the right facility.

Written by: Aging with Care Editorial Staff

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