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5 Myths About Skilled Nursing Facilities

After spending days or weeks in a hospital bed, most people just want to go home. So when you or your loved one gets discharged to a skilled nursing facility instead, it can be a little scary. There’s also a lot of confusing information – and in some cases, outright misinformation – surrounding skilled nursing facilities.

To bring some clarity and comfort, let’s break down some of the most common myths.

Myth #1: Skilled nursing facility is just a fancy term for “nursing home.”

A nursing home and a skilled nursing facility differ in terms of their purpose, duration of stay and type of care provided. A nursing home is a long-term residential facility that provides care for seniors and people with disabling physical conditions, offering long-term custodial care and limited medical care. In contrast, a skilled nursing facility focuses on short- to medium-term treatment (typically 30-90 days) for people recently discharged from the hospital, providing rehabilitation and treatment services.

Another significant difference between the two types of facilities is the care providers. In a nursing home, non-medical workers typically provide custodial care, while skilled nursing facilities employ registered nurses, speech pathologists, vocational nurses, and other medical professionals to provide care. Skilled nursing facilities require the involvement of skilled nursing and/or rehabilitative staff daily.

Myth #2: Patients sent to skilled nursing facilities will pick up another disease or injury.

While the risk of infection exists in any healthcare setting, skilled nursing facilities are dedicated to providing a safe and clean environment for their residents. They follow strict safety protocols and cleanliness standards to minimize the risk of infection. In the wake of COVID-19, these measures include more stringent infection control protocols to prevent the spread of infectious diseases among residents and staff, such as early detection measures, isolation procedures and mandated use of personal protective equipment.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention closely monitors skilled nursing facilities to ensure the safety of their residents. The Joint Commission National Patient Safety Goals requires these facilities to have measures in place to prevent specific clinical harms, such as falls, pressure ulcers and healthcare-associated infections. Medication reconciliation is also required to mitigate the risk of adverse drug effects.

Myth #3: If you have family or friends who can provide care at home, you don’t need to go to a skilled nursing facility.

While it’s true that some individuals can receive appropriate care at home, there are many cases where a skilled nursing facility may be necessary.

For instance, skilled nursing facilities provide round-the-clock care from medical professionals who can assist in ways family members and friends can’t. These medical professionals are trained to manage complex medical conditions including chronic illness, injuries and post-surgery care as well as to provide rehabilitative services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Skilled nursing facilities also have specialized equipment and resources that may not be available at home.

Myth #4: Residents have limited rights.

At any qualified skilled nursing facility, preservation of patient autonomy is foundational to how they operate. Residents have the right to make their own decisions regarding their care, including the right to participate in their own assessment, care-planning, treatment and discharge. They also have the right to review their medical records and be informed in advance of any changes to their care or to the facility. Residents have the freedom to refuse medication and treatment, as well as chemical and physical restraints.

Residents choose their meals and activities they participate in and dictate who visits them and who can’t. Their communications are also private and unrestricted. This autonomy is crucial for maintaining residents’ dignity and quality of life.

Myth #5: The food is no better than hospital food.

Over the last decade, skilled nursing facilities have significantly enhanced their food options. Many have adopted a resident-centered approach to nutrition—providing a nourishing, palatable and well-balanced diet that meets the daily nutritional and special dietary needs of each resident while taking their dietary preferences into consideration. While certain medical conditions may warrant dietary interventions, many facilities focus on allowing as much flexibility in food choices – including flavorings – as possible. Registered dieticians work hand in hand with executive chefs to create nutritious and delicious menus.

In addition, many skilled nursing facilities focus on elevating the cuisine experience, offering restaurant-style dining options with menus for residents to “order” from, as well as buffet-style service.

This shift in focus towards higher-quality food and dining experience not only promotes resident satisfaction but also supports their overall well-being and recovery process.

The next steps in your recovery journey

Skilled nursing facilities play a crucial role in the recovery process. The key is to do your research on which facility makes the most sense for you or your loved one. With the guidance of your care team and hospital social worker, the transition from hospital to skilled nursing facility, and from skilled nursing facility to home, will go smoothly.

Have more questions about skilled nursing facilities? Read our guide on post-acute care to learn more.