Nursing Home home, Skilled Nursing Unit (SNU), care home or rest home provides a type of care of residents: it is a place of residence for people who require constant nursing care and have significant deficiencies with activities of daily living. Residents include the elderly and younger adults with physical or mental disabilities. Residents in a skilled nursing facility may also receive physical, occupational, and other rehabilitative therapies following an accident or illness. Residents may have certain legal rights depending on the location of the facility.

In the United States, a “Skilled Nursing Facility” or “SNF” is a nursing home certified to participate in, and be reimbursed by Medicare. Medicare is the federal program primarily for the aged who contributed to Social Security and Medicare while they were employed. A “Nursing Facility” or “NF” is a nursing home certified to participate in, and be reimbursed by Medicaid. Medicaid is the federal program implemented with each State to provide health care and related services to those who are “poor.” Each State defines poverty and; therefore, Medicaid eligibility. Those eligible for Medicaid may be aged, disabled or children (e.g. Children’s Health Insurance Programs – CHIPs and Maternal-Child wellness and food programs).

In the United States, each State “licenses” its nursing homes, making them subject to the State’s laws and regulations. Nursing homes may choose to participate in Medicare and/or Medicaid. If they pass a survey (inspection), they are “certified” and are also subject to federal laws and regulations. All or part of a nursing home may participate in Medicare and/or Medicaid.

In the United States, nursing homes which participate in Medicare and/or Medicaid are required to have licensed practical nurses (LPNs) (in some States designated “vocational nurses” or “LVNs”) on duty 24 hours a day. For at least 8 hours per day, 7 days per week, there must be a registered nurse on duty. Nursing homes are managed by a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator. Unlike U.S. nursing there are no standardized training and licensing requirements for administrators, though most states require a Federal License, and many states such as California have their own licensure for administrators. On December 25, 2010 there were a total of 15.689 nursing homes in the United States, down from 16,516 on December 12, 2002.

There are states that have other levels of care offered to elderly and other adults who need assistance and are able to live in the community. For instance, Connecticut has Residential Care Homes or RCH that are licensed by the State Department of Public Health. These homes provide 24-hour supervision and typically offer a more “home-like” environment. Many are actually large homes that have been converted to dwellings that offer a residential community that promotes an independent lifestyle and fosters fellowship with others who need some form of assistance to live in the community.

Services provided in nursing homes include services of nurses, nursing aides and assistants; physical, occupational and speech therapists; social workers and recreational assistants; and room and board. Most care in nursing facilities is provided by certified nursing assistants, not by skilled personnel. In 2004, there were, on average, 40 certified nursing assistants per 100 resident beds. The number of registered nurses and licensed practical nurses were significantly lower at 7 per 100 resident beds and 13 per 100 resident beds, respectively.

Medicare covers nursing home services for 20 to 100 days for beneficiaries who require skilled nursing care or rehabilitation services following a hospitalization of at least three consecutive days. The program does not cover nursing care if only custodial care is needed — for example, when a person needs assistance with bathing, walking, or transferring from a bed to a chair. To be eligible for Medicare-covered skilled nursing facility (SNF) care, a physician must certify that the beneficiary needs daily skilled nursing care or other skilled rehabilitation services that are related to the hospitalization, and that these services, as a practical matter, can be provided only on an inpatient basis. For example, a beneficiary released from the hospital after a stroke and in need of physical therapy, or a beneficiary in need of skilled nursing care for wound treatment following a surgical procedure, might be eligible for Medicare-covered SNF care.

SNF services may be offered in a free-standing or hospital-based facility. A freestanding facility is generally part of a nursing home that covers Medicare SNF services as well as long-term care services for people who pay out-of-pocket, through Medicaid, or through a long-term care insurance policy. Generally, Medicare SNF patients make up just a small portion of the total resident population of a free-standing nursing home.

Medicare also covers nursing home care for certain persons who require custodial care, meet a state’s means-tested income and asset tests, and require the level-of-care offered in a nursing home. Nursing home residents have physical or cognitive impairments and require 24-hour care.

The cost of staying in a Nursing home can cost several thousand per month or more. Some deplete their resources on the often high cost of care. If eligible, Medicaid will cover continued stays in nursing home for these individuals for life. However, they require that the patient be “spent down” to a low asset level first by either depleting their life savings or asset-protecting them, often using an elder law attorney.

U.S. Government regulations and oversight
All nursing homes in the United States that receive Medicare and/or Medicaid funding are subject to federal regulations. People who inspect nursing homes are called surveyors or, most commonly, state surveyors. State surveyors may inspect for compliance with licensure (State regulations) and/or certification (Medicare and Medicaid regulations).

The “Mininimum Data Set” assessment (MDS) is part of the U.S. federally mandated process for comprehensive assessment of all residents in Medicare or Medicaid certified nursing homes. The MDS assessment is a screening assessment that forms the basis of a comprehensive assessment of each resident’s functional capabilities and helps nursing home staff identify and help residents meet or cope with health and other needs. The MDS also yields “Resource Utilization Groups” (RUGS) which are used for all Medicare reimbursement to SNFs, and is used in many States to set reimbursement for NFs.

SNFs and NFs are subject to federal regulations and also strict state regulations. The nursing home industry is considered one of the two most heavily regulated industries in the United States (the other being the nuclear power industry).

Consumer choices

Current trends are to provide people with significant needs for long term supports and services with a variety of living arrangements. Indeed, research in the U.S. as a result of the Real Choice Systems Change Grants, shows that many people are able to return to their own homes in the community. Private nursing agencies may be able to provide live-in nurses to stay and work with patients in their own homes.

When considering living arrangements for those who are unable to live by themselves, potential customers consider it to be important to carefully look at many nursing homes and assisted living facilities as well as retirement homes, keeping in mind the person’s abilities to take care of themselves independently. While certainly not a residential option, many families choose to have their elderly loved one spend several hours per day at an adult daycare center.


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