ALF and SNF: What’s the difference?

Learn about assisted living and skilled nursing facilities to help determine which is the right fit.

January 20, 2014

2 min read

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For individuals who may not be able to independently manage all of their post-hospitalization care, understanding next steps and care options is critical for a smooth recovery. A hospital discharge planner or case manager is typically responsible for helping patients and their families navigate the process of planning for a hospital discharge.

The discharge planner or case manager may recommend an assisted living facility (ALF) or a skilled nursing facility (SNF) for assistance during recovery. Understanding what these hospital discharge plans entail can help families make an informed decision about care.

Assisted living facility (ALF)

An ALF is a residential care option that resembles an apartment complex. Assisted living residents receive help with activities of daily living (ADLs), like getting dressed, bathing, medication management and transferring (moving from one place to another) – all provided by trained staff.

ALFs also offer services such as meals, housekeeping, laundry and events designed to foster connection.

Who can live in an ALF?

Eligibility for living in an ALF varies according to each state’s regulations, but it generally involves needing assistance with at least two ADLs.

In addition to assisted living, many senior living communities offer independent living. There aren’t minimum care requirements for independent living, and choosing a community that offers both living options allows residents to age in place as their care needs change. It can also offer couples with different care needs the ability to live together while having access to the right level of support.

How to pay for assisted living

ALFs are private pay. Though you may be planning an assisted living short-term stay due to increased care needs, these communities are not covered by Medicare or health insurance. Depending on the policy, long-term care insurance may cover assisted living.

Skilled nursing facility (SNF)

SNFs, or skilled nursing facilities, are designed for individuals requiring a higher level of medical care, often involving nursing staff and regular medical procedures.

Who can live in a SNF?

Skilled nursing facilities offer a level of care that can only be administered by trained, registered nurses. For those with acute or chronic illness, a SNF may be the best option for providing adequate care. This might include wound care, injections, ostomy care and tube feedings.

How to pay for a SNF

Sometimes referred to as nursing homes, SNFs offer various payment options, though it’s important to note that Medicare does not cover long-term stays. Under specific conditions, Medicare may cover a SNF for a limited time.

Those considering a SNF should be prepared to use personal assets for care costs until potentially qualifying for state assistance programs like Medicaid. The admissions office at the SNF may be able to help you apply for Medicaid.

Finding the right care

When older adults are in the hospital, physicians and case managers may think a SNF is the only answer. However, assisted living can offer a safe and engaging nursing home alternative, providing the necessary care without the costs associated with intensive medical services.
Receiving a thorough care assessment by an ALF can help your family determine if assisted living can meet your needs.

Looking for assisted care facilities near you? Browse nearby communities.

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Not sure where to start?

There’s a lot to learn when you become a caregiver, and you may be wondering where to start. Fortunately, many of the experiences you’ll encounter are common, and we've pulled together resources to help you along your journey.

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