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What’s the Difference Between Skilled Nursing, Short-Term Rehabilitation at Skilled Nursing, and Inpatient Rehab?

July 19, 2021

You’ve heard of skilled nursing and you’ve heard of rehab, but is it true the two are related or can even be synonymous? It’s true, they’re closely related. Let us explain.

After a hospitalizationwhether for a planned event like elective surgery or a surprise occurrence like a fallyour doctor may recommend rehabilitation (rehab) services. If you need this kind of nursing care, your physician and care team will help you decide if it’s best to receive it in an inpatient rehab facility or a skilled nursing facility. Many hospitals offer their own inpatient rehab program within the building, or other standalone facilities exist.

older adult woman lifting weights dumbells at rehabilitation
Rehabilitation programs help people heal, recover, regain strength, and get back home.


Both types of facilities focus on rehab and recuperative care with the same goal: to help patients regain their strength and independence so they can return home.


So, what is the difference between rehab at skilled nursing and inpatient rehab? The following outlines the differences to help you understand and make the right choice for you or a loved one.

What is Skilled Nursing?

Long-Term Skilled Nursing Care
Wait a minuteisn’t skilled nursing the same as a nursing home? It can be. Skilled nursing facilities provide 24/7 nursing care and assistance to patients who are suffering from diseases, injuries, or declining health and mobility often associated with aging. Some people require skilled nursing care on a regular, long-term basis, which is the type of setting often referred to as a nursing home or long-term skilled care.

Rehabilitation at Skilled Nursing
Receiving short-term rehab services in a skilled nursing facility is a bit different. Some skilled nursing communities have a separate wing or even building where the short-term rehab is. That’s how it is here at Three Pillars. Others may have short-stay patients mixed in with long-term care residents.

While there, you will receive one or more therapies. These therapies could include physical, occupational, and/or speech.

Also known as subacute rehab care, rehab therapies in a skilled nursing setting are not considered as intensive as inpatient rehab is. Still, it’s no leisurely picnicindividuals who have received subacute rehab here at Three Pillars will tell you they work very hard in therapy daily, and when they’re done for the day, they’re ready for a rest! 

Subacute care is for people who are not severely ill, but need skilled caregivers to oversee their progress as they regain their strength, functionality, and ability to carry out daily activities independently at home again. At a skilled nursing facility, a registered (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN) plus certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are always available, 24 hours per day. Additionally, the care team consists of physical therapists, occupational therapists, audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and other specialists. Through regular consultations with the care team and periodic in-person visits with patients, a physician oversees the care provided at skilled nursing.

Benefits of Skilled Nursing Facilities

  • Benefit #1: In-House Therapy Plus Other Activities
    Constantly moving is important for your health, especially for those recovering from an accident, illness, or surgery. Skilled nursing facilities offer both physical therapy and other recreational activities to provide movements in the joints. 

  • Benefit #2: Just Right Care and Therapy
    If subacute rehab at a skilled nursing facility is recommended, it means you’ll receive just the right blend of intensive therapy services to push you towards progress, enough time to rest and recover, and round-the-clock nursing care. It’s slightly less intense than inpatient rehab, which is just what many people need.

  • Benefit #3: Social and Spiritual Support
    You or your loved one are surrounded by a complete care team of nurses, staff, and other residents to receive spiritual and social support. Staying in a supportive environment is important for mental and physical health.


older adult woman receiving physical therapy in skilled nursing environment
Rehabilitation can be provided in a skilled nursing setting or inpatient facility, and both bring many benefits.

What is Inpatient Rehabilitation?

Inpatient rehab consists of similar services to help you recover after an injury, illness, or surgery that affects your ability to live as before. Oftentimes, it’s recommended after more serious injuries such as a stroke, a spinal cord injury, or a brain injury, or for individuals who have greater physical strength and stamina than others. 

As with subacute rehab, the main goal of inpatient rehab is to prepare you to return back home. Inpatient rehab involves intensive care, known as acute care, that may span a longer recovery period than that at subacute rehab. However, there is no long-term option to stay or reside if needed at inpatient rehab as there is at skilled nursing.

Therapy in inpatient rehab is administered by specialists who incorporate advanced technologies and approaches into your regimen. Physician care is usually provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and a physician is the one to assess your progress and goals throughout your stay. The nurses on the care team may be RNs, as well as specialized Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurses (CRRN)

Benefits of Inpatient Rehabilitation

  • Benefit #1: Structure and Intensity
    Inpatient rehab facilities emphasize daily routines full of productive activities, challenging exercises, and therapeutic sessions to help patients recover as soon as possible. Patients are pushed safely and to the best of their ability in order to maximize progress.

  • Benefit #2: 24/7 Medical Support
    There is around-the-clock medical and clinical supervision seven days a week during the entire stay at inpatient rehab. This allows patients to feel safe as they undergo the recovery process, particularly if they are experiencing more complex medical needs.


Which Type of Facility Is the Right One?

Researching your options is always the best first step. Determining your goals, asking questions, and knowing your needs will guide you to the right facility. Both skilled nursing and inpatient rehab help you recover, but your unique needs may lead you to one over the other.

Speaking with your health care provider will also assist you to make the right decision, and they will likely be willing to coordinate care with your insurance company. Receiving rehab services in either setting will provide you with major benefits:

  • Benefit #1: Peace of Mind
    Knowing you are somewhere safe, comfortable, monitored, and being taken care of by qualified caregivers as you recover gives you peace of mind. Having that peace of mind is important for overall well-being and the recovery process. 

  • Benefit #2: Setting Goals and Building Strong, New Habits for Returning Home
    Throughout the rehab process, there is a repetitive cycle to help you reach your goals. Ultimately, rehab is designed for success after leaving. Therefore, you will learn the tools needed upon departure to life safely, happily, independently, and successfully back at home.

Do you have additional questions about this topic? If we can provide any resources to make the right decision for you or a loved one, do not hesitate to get in touch. Leave us a comment below or contact us to inquire.

Photo credits: Freepik

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