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What is a nursing home and a brief history of nursing home origins in the United States

Published on Jan 23, 2018

What is a nursing home?

Nursing homes are residential care centers that provide care for people requiring a certain level of medical care that can’t be met through home or other community services. The residential care model includes nursing care, dietary needs, environmental and maintenance services as well as activities to ensure active and engaged residents.

Typically, nursing homes, or skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) as they are called today, treated the elderly or those facing end-of-life care. Now, many patients come to a nursing home for physical therapy, occupational therapy or speech-language therapy to recover from an illness or injury and then return home.

Many offer memory care units, which are usually separated from other residents, to assist those suffering with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.

History of nursing homes in the United States.

The history of nursing homes goes back as far as the 17th century when English settlers brought the concept of almshouses to America. These were not just for the elderly, but also took care of orphans and the mentally ill. The almshouses provided shelter and daily meals, and typically that was all that was provided.

This practice continued through the 20th century and the almshouses were overwhelmed during the Great Depression. There was more need than space and funding, and the conditions of the people living there were very poor.

Almshouses, which received lots of public outcry and criticism for their living conditions, eventually gave way to a different type of residential home for the elderly.

Convalescent homes were board-and-care that provided basic levels of care and meals in a private setting. These were deemed a success and by World War II the current vision of nursing homes began to take shape.

As the government realized people were spending a lot of time in hospitals the effort was made to change the board-and-care homes into a permanent and public institution that can be funded by state and federal dollars.

By 1965, nursing homes were throughout the United States. The elderly and disabled received medical care and daily meals. From the 70s through the late 1980s nursing homes made giant leaps forward in providing quality care. Medicare and Medicaid make up much of the money that enabled residents to receive care. In 1987, the Nursing Home Act was introduced to begin defining different types of services and eventually a Residents’ Bill of Rights.

Today, many nursing homes, or SNFs, resemble residential homes as carpet and wood laminate flooring are throughout centers and feature warm and colorful rooms, decorations and dining areas.

With wi-fi networks, flat screen televisions and in some facilities, coffees bar serving coffee and tea to guests and residents, nursing homes have stepped into the 21st century.

In terms of the almshouses that began nearly 300 years ago, the nursing home industry has traveled far and is now a leader in the health care discussion for many families and communities.