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Skilled Nursing Facility vs. Rehab Center: How to Choose

9 minute readLast updated September 15, 2023
fact checkedon September 15, 2023
Written by Angelike Gaunt
Reviewed by Lauri Grady, RN, BSN, CCM, CLCPLauri Grady, founder and president of LBG Care Consulting, has been a registered nurse for more than 30 years.
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Many older adults need rehabilitation services after a hospital stay. Whether your elderly loved one is recovering from an illness, injury, stroke, or surgery, rehab can help them regain strength and mobility. Both skilled nursing facilities and rehab centers aim to help seniors restore function so they can return to normal activities and live as independently as possible. In some cases, rehabilitation services may also be offered at your loved one’s nursing home. These rehab settings provide many of the same services, but the intensity of the programs offered may differ.

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What is a skilled nursing facility?

Skilled nursing facilities provide short-term, temporary housing, 24-hour skilled nursing services, and medical care to elderly adults who need rehab after a hospital discharge.

Rehab services at a skilled nursing facility may include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Social and psychological services
  • Orthopedic rehabilitation

Elderly adults at skilled nursing facilities receive therapies for an average of one to two hours per day. They also receive personal care and help with activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing, and using the restroom.

Staff at these facilities include certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, and physical, occupational, and speech therapists, among other specialists. Once staff evaluate your loved one’s health and rehab goals, they’ll develop a care plan. The plan outlines the type of rehab services your family member needs and how often they’ll receive them.

Rehab at a skilled nursing facility may be partially or fully covered by Medicare, depending on how long your parent needs rehab care. Medicare coverage may include a shared room, meals, medications, skilled nursing care, different types of therapies, and more. To be eligible for Medicare coverage, your loved one must enter the facility within 30 days of being discharged after a hospital stay that lasted at least three days.[01]

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What is an inpatient rehab center?

Inpatient rehab is offered at special hospital units dedicated to rehabilitation services. The same rehab services offered at skilled nursing facilities are provided at inpatient rehab centers, including nursing care, orthopedic rehabilitation, physical, occupational, and speech therapy, and more. However, programs at inpatient rehab centers focus on acute care for elderly adults who need more intensive treatment and recovery.

Seniors who’ve had a stroke, traumatic injuries, surgeries, and amputations may need intensive, daily therapy for a successful recovery. Rehab centers offer a minimum of three hours of therapies daily, six days a week, to promote a recovery that’s fast but safe.

Older adults who complete rehab at inpatient rehab centers often have shorter stays than those who choose rehab at skilled nursing facilities. A typical stay at a rehab center ranges from 10 to 35 days. Stays of 24 to 60 days are common at skilled nursing facilities. As with skilled nursing facilities, inpatient rehab centers offer meals, personal care, and assistance with daily activities.

Stays at inpatient rehab centers may be covered by Medicare, but your parent may need to pay a deductible. Medicare coverage may include shared rooms, meals, medications, nursing care, and different therapies.[02]

Is rehab offered in nursing homes?

Yes, nursing homes sometimes offer short-term care to people receiving rehabilitation services. This short-term care may include physical therapy after a surgery or skilled nursing care for seniors recovering from an illness.[03]

Rehabilitation in nursing homes will vary, however. Some nursing homes may have an attached skilled nursing facility to offer rehabilitation services. Other nursing homes only offer minimal levels of rehab support, or they may focus on providing long-term skilled care to help residents maintain their current abilities.

After spending time in a rehab center, some seniors may need to transition to a nursing home for additional support if they’re not quite ready to return home.

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How do you choose between a skilled nursing facility and rehab center?

When you’re trying to choose the right rehab option for your senior loved one, it’s important to discuss rehab goals and needs with their doctor. In fact, your loved one’s care team will likely take the lead in deciding which facility will be the best fit.

Here are a few important factors that your parent’s care team will consider before choosing between a skilled nursing facility, nursing home, and rehab center:

  • Program availability. All rehab locations have limitations on the amount of people they can serve. Sometimes, staffing and availability will be one of the biggest factors in choosing rehab care.
  • Program intensity. Programs at skilled nursing and rehab centers differ in intensity. Some seniors may be in poor health or have difficulty with the pain that accompanies rehab. Talk to the doctor about the types of therapies your parent will need and how often they’ll need these services.
  • Length of stay. Is your family member motivated and determined to return home as soon as possible? More intensive therapies at a rehab center often mean a shorter stay at the facility.
  • Access to physicians and specialists. Elderly adults who have complex rehabilitation needs may benefit from daily access to a physician and different specialists available at an inpatient rehab center. In contrast, seniors at skilled nursing facilities typically see a physician one to three times a week.
  • Costs and coverage. While your loved one may be eligible for full or partial Medicare coverage in either a skilled nursing facility or rehab center, they may need to pay a deductible if choosing inpatient rehab.

Skilled nursing facilities vs. rehab centers: At a glance

Top ConsiderationsSkilled Nursing FacilityInpatient Rehab Care
Program intensity1 to 2 hours of daily therapyAt least 3 hours of daily therapy
Average length of stay24 to 60 days10 to 35 days
Access to physiciansPhysician visits 1 to 3 times a weekDaily physician visits
StaffingTherapists and nursing assistants certified in long-term care who are supervised by registered nurses or licensed practical nursesRegistered nurses who specialize in rehabilitative care and therapists
Costs and Medicare coverageMay be completely or partially covered by Medicare, depending on multiple factors, including length of stayMay be partially covered, depending on facility; may require a deductible

Post-rehab care

While the goal of rehab is to help your loved one return to their previous level of independence, you might find out that that journey doesn’t end with their stay in rehab. Your loved one may be asked to continue doing physical therapy exercises at home, or they may need some extra help around the house after completing their stay in a skilled nursing facility. Home care can make this time easier.

A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Advisors can help you find a caregiver in your area to help keep the house clean or assist your loved one with personal care tasks as they continue to recover. They’ll take your loved one’s care needs and budget into account, and best of all, this service comes at no cost to your family.


  1. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Skilled nursing facility (SNF) care. Medicare.gov.

  2. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Inpatient hospital care. Medicare.gov.

  3. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. More information about health care providers. Medicare.gov.

Meet the Author
Angelike Gaunt

Angelike Gaunt is the Director of Editorial Content Strategy at A Place for Mom. She’s developed health content for consumers and medical professionals at major health care organizations, including Mayo Clinic, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the University of Kansas Health System. She’s passionate about developing accessible content to simplify complex health topics.

Edited by

Leah Hallstrom

Reviewed by

Lauri Grady, RN, BSN, CCM, CLCP

The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

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