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We never expect a serious injury or illness, yet each of us eventually comes face-to-face with injury or illness ourselves or with a loved one. When you or one of your family members are in the hospital following an injury, illness or surgery and the physician or surgeon says it’s time to leave the hospital but rehabilitation or additional care is needed before going home, the situation can be overwhelming.

Exactly what is rehabilitation and can’t it be done at home?

Some conditions that may require short- or long-term care at a rehabilitation facility include stroke; disabling diseases such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis; brain and spinal cord injuries; orthopedic injuries or surgery; amputation; ventilator and breathing support; post-surgery recovery; acute illness and infection; and general wound care.  

Depending on resources, facility options and the extent and length of rehabilitation and care needed, most people will either go to a long-term or short-term rehabilitation hospital or skilled nursing facility that provides rehabilitation services.

Staff at these specialized care centers may include nurses; physical, occupational and speech therapists; social workers; dietitians; a physician medical director; and other specialized medical staff as needed.

To better understand the differences between a hospital, short-term and long-term rehabilitation hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, I reached out to Richard Holt, D.O. Dr. Holt specializes in helping patients recover from injury or disease and live the highest quality of life possible. He is the medical director of Flagstaff's newly opened Rehabilitation Hospital of Northern Arizona, the only rehabilitation hospital in the region, serving all of Northern Arizona.

Dr. Holt explained the differences between acute-care hospitals, short-term acute inpatient rehabilitation hospitals and skilled nursing facilities have to do with the level of care provided, the length of care needed and the type of injury, illness or diagnosis of the patient. He provided the following information on three types of care facilities:

Acute-Care Hospitals provide constant, short-term treatment for a severe injury, an episode of illness or urgent medical condition. The patient is under the direct care of a physician. Most hospitals perform surgery and therefore provide short-term (days) post-surgery care. In medical terms, care for acute health conditions is the opposite of long-term care or care for chronic (ongoing) conditions. Length of stay is typically days but may be longer depending on patient needs.

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Short-Term Acute Inpatient Rehabilitation Hospitals are specialty hospitals that offer intensive inpatient rehabilitation therapy for those recovering from a serious illness, surgery or injury and require a high level of specialized care that generally cannot be provided in another setting (such as in your home or a skilled nursing facility). Acute rehabilitation is appropriate for patients who will benefit from an intensive, multidisciplinary rehabilitation program. Short-term rehabilitation focuses on rebuilding strength, retraining muscles, regaining speech and rewiring the brain. Treatment plans are individualized and most patients participate in two to three hours of physical and occupational therapy a day. Services offered by rehabilitation hospitals may include medical care and rehabilitation nursing; physical, occupational and speech therapy; social worker assistance; psychological services; and orthotic and prosthetic services. Examples of common conditions that may qualify for care in a rehabilitation hospital include stroke, spinal cord injury and brain injury and recovering from hip or knee replacement if accompanied by other complicating condition. Medicare reports the average length of stay is 12 days.  

Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNF) provide both short-term and long-term care for the elderly and/or those who have an illness or injury who require daily medical care, help with routine tasks, supervision and assistance. When around-the-clock care is required, a SNF may be the best option. Traditionally, the patient’s care is overseen by a physician, but a physician does not see the patient on a daily basis, as is the case in a hospital. SNFs provide physical, occupational and speech therapy, as well as nursing care. Medicare reports the average length of stay is 41 days.

Fortunately, residents in the greater Flagstaff area have access to the highest quality healthcare - from trauma, surgical and hospital care to long-term and short-term rehabilitation to assisted living.

Is there a health topic you would like to know more about? Contact Starla S. Collins, health writer and public relations expert, at

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Starla S. Collins can be reached at  928-310-6562 or


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