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Rehabilitation Nursing Homes and Rehab Centers: Where to Recover After a Hospital Stay

10 minute readLast updated September 21, 2023
fact checkedon September 15, 2023
Written by Angelike Gaunt
Medically 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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Skilled nursing homes and rehab centers can both provide short-term, residential rehabilitation services to individuals recovering after a hospital stay. Facilities vary slightly in the rehab programs they offer. For instance, hospital inpatient rehab centers may offer daily access to doctors, whereas a nursing home may only provide daily access to nurses. Nursing homes may have a doctor that oversees rehab care plans, but they might only visit patients once per week. This makes inpatient hospital rehab programs better for more complicated, acute recovery programs. Learn more about the differences between these facilities and the features of their rehab programs.

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Key Takeaways

  1. Rehab centers can be standalone, in a nursing home, or part of a hospital, with hospital rehab centers offering more rigorous rehab programs for acute conditions.
  2. Nursing homes typically provide one to two hours of rehab per day, whereas inpatient rehab centers at hospitals offer three to four hours per day.
  3. Hospital rehabilitation centers provide daily access to doctors, while nursing homes might only provide daily access to nurses and weekly access to doctors.
  4. A patient’s care team guides the choice of rehab, considering all acute and general health needs as well as insurance and ability.

What are the main objectives of rehabilitation in the nursing home?

Rehabilitation programs in nursing homes help individuals recovering from illness, injury, or a hospital stay. Residents of rehab programs in nursing homes can receive 24-hour skilled nursing oversight, on-site medical care services, and access to a variety of on-site therapists.

Rehab care services at a skilled nursing home may include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Other specialized rehab therapies like cardiac, respiratory, or orthopedic
  • Social and psychological programs and therapies

Residents at skilled nursing facilities typically receive rehab therapies for an average of one to two hours per day. They will also receive meals and help with their activities of daily living (ADLs), 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 health care staff evaluate the patient’s health and rehab goals, they’ll develop a care plan. The plan outlines the type of rehab services a person 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 a person needs rehab care. Medicare coverage may include a shared room, meals, medications, skilled nursing care, and different types of therapies. To be eligible for Medicare coverage, the patient must enter the facility within 30 days of being discharged after a hospital stay that lasted at least three days.[01]

What is a rehab center?

Rehab centers are facilities that provide rehabilitative services to people recovering from illness or injury. They can be inpatient or outpatient. Inpatient rehab centers are often located on or near a hospital campus. These centers offer the same rehab services found at skilled nursing facilities, including nursing care and a variety of physical, occupational, and speech therapies. Inpatient rehab centers on hospital campuses often focus on acute care for those who need more complex and intensive treatments, like cardiac rehab.

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

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

Short-term stays at inpatient rehab centers may be covered by Medicare, but there may be a deductible. Medicare coverage might include shared rooms, meals, medications, nursing care, and different therapies.[02]

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How to choose between a skilled nursing facility and rehab center for rehabilitation needs

When you’re trying to choose the right rehab option, it’s important to discuss rehab goals and needs with a doctor. A patient’s care team in the hospital will often take the lead in deciding which facility will be the best fit and will offer families a few options.

Here are some important factors to consider before choosing between a skilled nursing home and rehab center for rehabilitative needs after illness, injury, or a hospital stay:

  • Program availability. All rehab locations have limitations on the amount of people they can serve. Sometimes, staffing and availability are the biggest factors in choosing rehab care. You will want a place with a plentiful staff-to-resident ratio.
  • Program intensity. Programs at skilled nursing and rehab centers differ in intensity. Programs will be slower and gentler if the patient is in poor health or has difficulty with the pain that accompanies rehab. Talk to the doctor overseeing the care plan about the types of therapies needed and what local facilities offer.
  • Length of stay. If the patient is motivated and determined to return home as soon as possible, then they might want more intensive therapies at a hospital rehab center. Though more difficult, this often means a shorter program and a shorter stay in a rehab facility.
  • Access to physicians and specialists. Individuals with complex rehabilitation needs may benefit from daily access to a physician and different specialists available at an inpatient rehab center. In contrast, patients in skilled nursing facilities typically only see a physician one to three times a week.
  • Costs and coverage. If a recuperating patient is eligible for full or partial Medicare coverage in either a skilled nursing facility or rehab center, a deductible may still be required.

Skilled nursing facilities vs. inpatient rehab centers

FeatureSkilled nursing facilityInpatient rehab care
Program intensity1 to 2 hours of daily therapy3+ 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
StaffingNursing assistants, supervised by registered nurses or licensed practical nurses, and a variety of therapistsRegistered nurses who specialize in rehabilitative care and a variety of therapists
Insurance coverageMay be completely or partially covered by Medicaid, Medicare, or a private health insurance plan, depending on multiple factors, like length of stayMay be partially covered, depending on the facility; may require a deductible

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Is rehab offered in senior care communities?

Yes, senior care communities, like assisted living, often offer on-site, short-term rehab services to seniors in need of rehabilitation after illness, injury, or a hospital stay. On-site care may include physical therapy after surgery or injury or skilled nursing care to recover from an illness.[03]

Rehabilitation services offered in assisted living facilities will vary, however. Some senior care communities have an attached skilled nursing unit offering a variety of on-site rehabilitation services. Other communities only offer minimal levels of rehab support. They instead focus on providing long-term care and support with ADLs to help residents maintain their current abilities.

After time in a rehab center, some seniors may need to transition to an assisted living community for long-term care support, especially if they still need assistance with ADLs. If they don’t want to enter an assisted living facility, there are also home care options after surgery that may be covered by either Medicaid or Medicare.

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 home care services in your area to help keep the house clean or assist with personal care tasks as recovery progresses. Our advisors take all care needs and budgets into account, then make recommendations of agencies in your area. And best of all, this service comes at no cost to you or 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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