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Nursing homes are a part of the American fabric of health care for many patients and their families. A nursing home is a residential facility where individuals get the care they need but aren’t able to receive at home. In addition to medical care, nursing homes also provide for residents’ social and daily living needs.

Almshouses of Early America
The first nursing homes were almshouses and appeared in the United States in the 17th century. These almshouses hailed back to Medieval times and were a concept that early English settlers brought to the colonies. In addition to older citizens, almshouses provided shelter and meals to widows, orphans, and the mentally ill. Living conditions were considerably poor, especially going into the Great Depression. Almshouses typically required more space and funding than they usually received.

Public Outcry and Reform
Almshouses increasingly became the target of public criticism and outrage because of the squalor many residents experienced. Almshouses gradually gave way to convalescent homes, which provided room, board, and medical care for elderly residents. By the start of World War II, these homes modeled the beginning of what nursing homes would become today. Funding at the federal and state levels soon flowed to these facilities, and they grew to be more similar to hospitals.

Nursing homes could be found all over the United States by 1965. About 60 percent of nursing homes received some type of welfare funding to care for the elderly and disabled. Subsequent years saw many improvements to the quality of medical care residents received thanks in large part to Medicaid and Medicare. The Nursing Home Act was signed in 1987 and eventually became the Residents’ Bill of Rights, which defined the types of services to which residents are entitled.

Nursing Homes Today
Today’s nursing homes have wi-fi networks, entertainment centers, and other amenities one might find in many homes. They typically have warm, colorful rooms as well as dining areas and décor to help residents feel more comfortable.

Many nursing homes are currently skilled nursing facilities that house residents with chronic conditions, Alzheimer’s Disease, or terminal illness. Some residents move in temporarily to receive physical, occupational, or some other type of therapy before returning home permanently.