What Is Skilled Nursing? Is It Right for Your Loved One?

When loved ones begin aging and developing serious health conditions, you may start considering their options for care.

Would a senior community, assisted living, or skilled nursing center be the best fit? Many people are familiar with the latter of the three, but what is skilled nursing?

Skilled nursing care is ideal for people who no longer need intensive treatment, such as what’s offered in a hospital. They do need focused, specialized, and around-the-clock treatment to care for health issues and ailments. This type of treatment can only be offered by a facility licensed to care for these types of conditions.

Nursing Homes

A skilled nursing facility is also commonly referred to as a “nursing home.” It is highly specialized care for people with serious and debilitating conditions and illnesses. The care is provided by licensed, trained nurses who understand how to treat serious and complex health issues.

“Assisted living centers provide services for individuals to age in place,” explains Elaine Hatfield, Chief Nursing Officer of UPMC’s senior communities. “In a skilled nursing facility, the residents we admit are often more acutely ill than in the community setting. They may suffer from two or three chronic conditions.”

Many communities also offer specialized care for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. These services may include memory support services to help deal with short-term memory loss, along with traditional nursing care.

Assisted Living or Skilled Nursing

A common misconception is that assisted living centers are the same as skilled nursing centers. While assisted living may offer a higher level of care than an independent living senior community, assisted living is for people who don’t need constant help. People in assisted living centers are capable of handling their day-to-day care and activities with moderate support.

Skilled nursing offers constant care, a high level of supervision, and an extremely high level of specialized medical care to treat each person’s specific disease, condition, injury, or illness. Skilled nursing facilities are also, Hatfield says, “under the direction of a physician, require 24-hour nursing services, and may resemble a medical/surgery ward of a hospital.”

In skilled nursing facilities, registered nurses are on duty 24 hours a day. The care must be administered by a medical professional who is trained and licensed to treat a variety of serious conditions in a highly specialized medical environment.

Who Is a Good Fit?

People who most benefit from skilled nursing facilities are those who have complex health issues, such as sensitive or difficult wound dressings. They may need rehabilitation after an illness or injury or surgery. Those who require complex medications are often referred to skilled nursing care. This person may need multiple rounds of medications, injections, or tube feedings. “A doctor has to admit someone to a skilled nursing facility,” says Hatfield. “A medical evaluation must be completed to determine if the patient meets the criteria for care.” Often patients come to skilled nursing following a hospitalization and most times return home after a rehabilitative stay.

These communities also provide rehabilitation therapy. This is ideal for people who have had a stroke or suffered debilitating accidents that may impair their speech, mobility, or ability to communicate or care for themselves. Assisted living centers typically don’t necessarily provide this type of rehabilitation and simply offer transportation for such services.

Hatfield says socialization is also a key aspect of skilled nursing centers, as it’s “key to the functioning and mental health” of residents. Skilled nursing centers will offer activity therapists, a structured activity program customized for each person’s needs, and a variety of appropriate outings.

“Not everyone is ready to go back home after leaving the hospital,” explains Hatfield. “Skilled nursing centers can be a landing point for those recovering from complex problems. It can help transition them from the hospital to everyday life. Without that landing pad, people would go home and deteriorate or acquire other conditions and they may end up back in the hospital.”

Continuum of care

Hatfield says skilled nursing is one of several types of aid on a “continuum of care” for the injured and ill. It offers a higher level of care, like the hospital, but with a more home-like environment.  (Combine with last two sentences below to make one paragraph.)Skilled nursing offers a higher level of care, and intensive supervision and treatment, beyond assisted living centers. While the fit may not be for everyone, it’s a vital aspect of care and recovery for many.

For more information, visit our UPMC Senior Communities page or call 800-324-5523.


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