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Skilled Nursing vs. Assisted Living Facilities: What’s the Difference?

Article originally featured on Cincinnati Business Courier

Selecting the right residential care community for an older adult or loved one can be overwhelming. There are countless choices, and it’s often uncharted territory that requires learning a whole new, unfamiliar language to help navigate the decision-making process.

Two terms you’re bound to come across when researching senior care facilities are “assisted living” and “skilled nursing.” Though there are some similarities between the two, there are distinct differences that are important to understand before you choose one. The experts at Maple Knoll Village, a continuing care retirement community in Cincinnati, helped break down the differences between the two.

Understanding the Similarities and Differences

A step up in care from independent living retirement care, assisted living facilities provide residents with a bit of extra help with their day-to-day tasks. Meals are provided, and social and recreational opportunities are available. Levels of assistance can range from basic housekeeping, laundry and transportation services to help with daily dressing, grooming and bathing. Some medical services may be provided, but, in general, residents of assisted living facilities don’t need constant care.

A skilled nursing facility typically offers nearly everything an assisted living facility does, but it also offers 24/7 medical care from trained, licensed professionals who are on-site on a regular basis. Individuals recovering from an illness or injury may choose a skilled nursing facility for a temporary stay, while those with ongoing, significant medical needs may choose them for longer stays. Private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid often pay for skilled nursing care. In general, the more medical care a person needs, the more likely skilled nursing is to be the right choice.

Why Choose a Skilled Nursing Facility?

Not all skilled nursing facilities provide the same level of medical care and services. You must evaluate each one individually and understand exactly what kind of services they can provide and the setting in which they provide them.

For example, Maple Knoll Village offers a skilled nursing residence in its Bodmann Pavilion Health Care Center. There, staff members provide services such as rehabilitation, restorative programming and physical, occupational and speech therapy. An on-site clinic provides services like wound care, respiratory care and IV therapy. A dementia and memory support unit is available for those who need it, and residents can also receive services from specialists such as podiatrists, audiologists, dentists and optometrists.

Many older adults enter skilled nursing facilities after a hospital stay. The goal is to provide care that keeps them from having to be readmitted to the hospital, which can be expensive and potentially dangerous to their health. So hospital readmission rates are key factors to look at when evaluating skilled nursing facilities and the quality of care they provide.

“We have doctors from the University of Cincinnati Department of Family and Community Medicine in the building six days a week, which helps us keep our readmission rates low for not only our skilled residents but our long-term care residents as well,” said Megan Gresham-Ulrich, vice president of marketing and business development for Maple Knoll Village. “That’s extremely important in times like these, and our readmission rate since the beginning of Covid is well below the national average.”

A skilled nursing facility isn't a hospital, though, so the atmosphere isn't necessarily institutional. While medical care is the differentiating factor, many offer the same benefits, comforts and homelike feel as assisted living facilities. For example, Maple Knoll Village’s skilled nursing facility also offers access to gardens and walking paths, cable and telephone services, housekeeping services, and a variety of social and recreational programs –– many of which take place at a wellness center with a pool.

Choosing a residence for a senior loved one is never easy. But determining the type of care they need now and in the future can help narrow things down.


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