Skilled Nursing Facility vs. Inpatient Rehab


When a person suffers from a stroke, a traumatic injury, or a debilitating disease, a high-quality rehabilitation program makes all the difference when it comes to restoring function and helping the patient achieve optimal health.  But choosing a rehabilitation facility can be daunting and confusing. In order to determine the best option for the patient, it’s important to understand what each type of facility offers. Below, we provide some information on the similarities and differences between inpatient rehab facilities (IRF) and skilled nursing facilities (SNF).

Skilled Nursing Facility vs. Inpatient Rehabilitation

It’s easy to see why people get confused when comparing IRFs and SNFs. Both inpatient rehab facilities and skilled nursing facilities focus on rehabilitative and recuperative care with the goal of helping patients to restore maximum function and regain their independence.  Both types of facilities offer:

  • Rehabilitation nursing

  • Rehabilitation therapies (physical, occupational, and speech)

  • Audiology

  • Prosthetics

  • Orthotics

  • Social and psychological services

Although both IRFs and SNFs offer a team approach to care, they differ mainly in the intensity of their programs and therapeutic services. The easiest way to think of it is in terms of acute care versus subacute care. An inpatient rehab facility offers acute care for those who need a higher level of rehabilitation following traumatic injuries and surgeries such as amputations. Patients in need of an IRF receive daily rehabilitative therapies, for at least three hours a day up to six days a week.

Skilled nursing facilities, on the other hand, offer subacute rehabilitation, which are similar but less intensive than the therapies provided at an IRF. For example, a patient at an SNF may only meet with their occupational or respiratory therapist three times a week for an hour or so per session. A patient at an IRF will sometimes move to a skilled nursing facility once they no longer require the acute care offered at the IRF but are still not ready to return home.

Does Medicare coverage differ at an inpatient rehab vs a skilled nursing facility?

Medicare coverage does differ between the two facilities.  Although it’s important to discuss the details of each person’s coverage individually, there are some general rules that may apply:

  • Typically, Medicare pays for 90 days per stretch in an inpatient rehab facility, with the first 60 fully covered.

  • An IRF requires no pre-qualifying hospital stay for Medicare coverage.  

  • In a skilled nursing facility, Medicare pays for 100 days per stretch, with the first 20 days fully paid for under certain conditions.

  • An SNF requires a 3-day pre-qualifying hospital stay for Medicare coverage.  

There are other criteria and requirements for Medicare coverage, and it’s important for each individual to discuss the particulars of their case with their insurance provider or a Medicare service representative.

Bella Vista provides subacute rehabilitation in San Diego

For patients who have transitioned out of the hospital or other acute rehab facilities but are not yet ready to return home, Bella Vista offers a comfortable, therapeutic environment and a wide range of subacute rehab services. Each patient at Bella Vista receives high quality care from a team of providers dedicated to helping them reach optimal levels of independence in the shortest time possible. For more information on our programs and services, give us a call at 619-644-1000 or stop by and see us in Lemon Grove today.