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Home Away from Home: Understanding the Different Senior Living Options

As we age, we may need to consider moving to a senior living community for extra assistance and care. However, it can be confusing to understand the differences between the different types of homes. In this post, we’ll explore the key differences between nursing homes, personal care homes, and assisted living residences.

Nursing Homes

Skilled nursing facilities, commonly known as nursing homes, are usually large buildings with many staff members, including nurses and medical professionals. They are designed for seniors who require 24-hour medical care and monitoring due to significant medical conditions. Because skilled nursing facilities manage residents' complex medical needs, they tend to have more medical equipment such as ventilators, IV lines, hospital beds, and more. They are usually more expensive than personal care homes due to the higher degree of medical care provided.

Most nursing homes in the United States depend partially on funding from the US Government to compensate them for caring for Medicare and Medicaid patients. Therefore, they are federally regulated. In Pennsylvania, nursing home accreditation and licensure regulation is run by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. This agency, like all state agencies, is overseen and reports back to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Personal Care Homes

On the other hand, personal care homes are usually smaller buildings and accommodate fewer residents. They are designed for seniors who need occasional assistance with daily tasks such as bathing, grooming, and medication management but do not require constant medical attention. Personal care homes tend to have a homier environment and provide more personalized care to their residents. They are usually less expensive than nursing homes due to the lower degree of medical care provided.

In Pennsylvania, personal care homes are licensed and regulated by the Department of Human Services to protect the health, safety, and well-being of the residents. There is staff available at personal care homes at all times in case of emergency, but not necessarily medical staff. Personal care homes are not reimbursed by Medicaid, so you cannot apply for Medicaid benefits to pay for living in a personal care home. Options for payment include private pay, long-term care insurance coverage, and Veterans' benefits.

Assisted Living Residences

In the past, there was no difference between Assisted Living and Personal Care in Pennsylvania. The two terms were essentially synonymous and interchangeable. However, most facilities referred to themselves as “assisted living” rather than a “personal care home” because it sounded more pleasant and inviting. But in January 2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare Office of Long-Term Living began to license Assisted Living Residences (ALR) separately from Personal Care Homes (PCH). However, many consumers—and even healthcare professionals—aren’t aware of or don’t fully understand the difference.

And because the differences are not very discernible, it is quite confusing to many people.

According to the Office of Long-Term Living, Assisted Living Residences (ALR) are different from Personal Care Homes in 3 ways: concept, construction, and level of care. The concept focuses on allowing a resident to "age in place" for a longer time before having to move to a nursing home when their needs increase. ALR construction would require larger units, private bathrooms, and the “capacity” for kitchen facilities. Regarding level of care, it would provide more assistance for a resident whose needs become too great for a Personal Care Home.


In summary, nursing homes are designed for seniors with complex medical needs who require 24-hour medical care and monitoring. Personal care homes and assisted living residences, on the other hand, are designed for seniors who need some assistance with daily tasks but do not require constant medical attention.

The cost of care and level of independence allowed are also factors to consider when choosing between the different types of homes. Nursing homes often have strict schedules and routines, which leads to less flexibility and autonomy for residents. Personal care homes and assisted living residences, however, often allow more freedom and independence for their residents, encouraging them to participate in activities and maintain a sense of normalcy.

Ultimately, the decision of which type of home to choose depends on the individual’s unique needs and preferences. We invite you to visit Silver Spring Personal Care Home and see firsthand what we have to offer every resident. Contact us today!


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