How Are Nursing Homes Different than Assisted Living?

Nursing Homes versus Assisted Living

Many people mistake a nursing home with an assisted living facility. The two have different levels of care and different treatment in the eyes of the law. Assisted living communities will generally take healthier people who need some extra help and monitoring while nursing homes are for the seriously ill.

Nonetheless, you have the ability to sue nursing homes and senior living communities when they have been negligent and harmed your loved one. Just because the laws of assisted living are not as detailed does not mean that they do not owe your loved one the duty of care.

The Different Legal Definitions of a Nursing Home and an Assisted Living Facility

An obvious difference between a skilled nursing facility and an assisted living facility begins with their legal definition. In Illinois, the definition of an assisted living facility is found in 77 ILCS 295.200.

It states that an assisted living facility is: “a home, building, residence, or any other place where sleeping accommodations are provided for at least three unrelated adults, at least 80% of whom are 55 years of age or older” where the following are provided

  • Services based on a social model where the resident’s unit is their home
  • Mandatory services such as meals and laundry
  • A physical environment that is a homelike setting

These are generally personal care and more minor assistance with the activities of daily living. There are care services, but there is more a level of independent living. The residential care that they receive could include occasional visits by registered nurses or medication management.

A long-term care facility has a much higher level of care than a senior living home and requirements under the law. In Illinois, the law defines a long-term care facility as “a private home, institution, building, residence, or any other place, whether operated for profit or not, or a county home for the infirm and chronically ill.” 210 ILCS 45/1-113

Thus a major legal difference is the purpose of the facility and who they are intended to treat. Illinois law views an assisted living facility as providing a setting for seniors who may need some extra help and a social community who do not need intensive medical care. The primary purpose of the facility is convenience and social interactions with other seniors. Older adults living there may be taken on outings and live in their own private room.

In contrast, the legal purpose of a nursing home is to provide intensive health care and nursing care to sick people who suffer from chronic conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease as opposed to just helping a more independent style of living. These skilled nursing facilities will provide memory care and more intensive help such as toileting.

The Regulatory Differences Between a Nursing Home and an Assisted Living Facility

From a regulatory standpoint, there are definite differences between nursing homes and assisted living. No matter what state you are in, nursing homes will be much more tightly regulated.

Nursing homes are licensed and frequently inspected. They answer to both the federal and state governments and will often be cited for violating the myriad of federal laws and regulations that apply to them. Every aspect of the daily care that they provide to residents is subject to regulation, and they may be held responsible for any failure to follow the law.

While each state has its own regulations, the federal laws and rules that apply to a nursing home are the same no matter where the nursing home is located. There are many different ways that your loved one is protected when you move them into as nursing home residents.

The picture is different when it comes to assisted living. These facilities are not regulated anywhere near as tightly as nursing homes. This is why you can have some facilities that are completely not equipped to care for the people that they are being paid to help.

There are no federal assisted living laws that give a uniform framework for regulating these facilities. Instead, how an assisted living facility will be regulated will depend on the state. Assisted living facilities do not receive Medicare or Medicaid funding so the level of oversight that is given to nursing homes will not apply here. The reason why the federal government has a say over nursing homes is that it pays many billions of dollars to them each year.

However, the only things that pay for assisted living are long-term care insurance or private pay, so there are fewer regulations.

In Illinois, there is state regulation of assisted living facilities. They must be licensed by the Division of Assisted Living. Illinois began regulating assisted living facilities in 2002. Illinois’ laws are found in 77 ILCS 295.

Illinois’ laws about assisted living are not as detailed as the regulations regarding nursing home care. They do provide for the following:

Licensing of assisted living facilities

Certain minimum basic services for residents such as three meals per day and housekeeping and laundry
A physician’s assessment when the resident moves in and at least once annually thereafter or after there is a change in the resident’s condition.

As you can see, there is still some level of regulation for assisted living, but it is not very extensive. Assisted living facilities can still be fined when they break the law, but the fines are relatively insignificant. The worst sanction that they can face is the loss of their license.

Accordingly, there are many abuses at assisted living facilities in Illinois since they are regulated, but nowhere near as stringently as nursing homes.

There is one thing that an assisted living facility and a nursing home have in common, and that is that you can file a lawsuit against either one of them for negligence. The facts at issue in the lawsuit may be different, but each court action will be judged by the same standard.

Even though they do not provide the same level of medical care as nursing homes, assisted living facilities may still be found liable for some of the same things that nursing homes are sued for frequently. For example, the following may be grounds for suing an assisted living facility:

The resident was left unattended during an activity or the facility failed to supervise when they had an offsite activity.

The staff of the assisted living facility failed to notice a medical condition such as pressure ulcers and failed to get treatment of it.

Staff may have abused a resident physically or financially.

Contact the attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers to learn more. Call us for a free consultation.