Long-term acute care hospitals (LTACHs) are specialized hospitals that care for people with unique medical needs. Patients admitted to these hospitals require continued acute care and who may be admitted from any number of care levels including: short-term acute care hospitals after a stay; directly from the emergency department; or upon referral by home health agencies, skilled nursing facilities, or other specialty hospitals.

Understanding long-term acute care hospitals and how non-clinical and clinical roles work together is essential to providing the care to help patients with complex needs advance their recovery.

How does a long-term acute care hospital serve the public? 

These facilities are “an indispensable provider in the post-acute spectrum of care.” They’re designed for providing treatment to patients who are critically ill and who need care such as ventilators, complex wound care, and care for multiple organ system failure. They provide care for patients who generally require a length of stay of about 25 days or more or until the patient can transfer to a lower level of care such as either at home, in a skilled nursing facility, or with another subacute provider. They “give inpatient services to people who need a much longer stay to get well.”

senior man in long-term acute care hospital bed

Doctors refer patients to these facilities when they:

  • need additional care, modalities, and treatments in an acute setting
  • require daily physician rounding
  • require specialized care that can’t be maintained in a short-term acute setting or a lower level setting

Weekly care team meetings are established at admission to discuss the ongoing needs of the patient. Information such as current care needs, discharge planning, new modalities, and changes in health status are discussed.

Common conditions treated 

  • respiratory failure and pneumonia
  • acute respiratory failure
  • infectious diseases requiring IV antibiotics
  • complex wounds
  • neurological disorders such as traumatic brain injuries
  • acute cardiac disease
  • multiple comorbid conditions
  • other care requiring extended acute treatment

Differences in care 

Long-term acute care hospitals can provide the same level of care as ICUs. However, they can’t provide emergency department services.

There is some overlap in treatment modalities. For example, a person in an LTACH may also complete 1-3 hours of rehabilitation each day to assist in the recovery process. On the other hand, skilled nursing facilities and inpatient rehabilitation facilities do not have the tools to care for critically ill patients.


Potential patients meet with clinical liaisons who discuss treatment options and review medical history as well as current health of the patient with care coordinators.

Once accepted to an LTACH, patients’ providers and care teams will determine the best date to transition to the facility. Patients and their family members work with care managers who help with the ongoing needs during the LTACH admission and transition to the next level of care appropriate to their goals and healthcare needs.

Looking ahead

In the past decade, the number of patients in long-term acute care hospitals has tripled to nearly 400,000. With an aging population, their importance will continue to increase in the coming years.

Long-term acute care hospitals are vital components in the care continuum. Research shows these facilities can:

  • lower costs
  • reduce hospital readmission
  • contribute to more successful ventilator weaning

Further, because they treat patients with conditions outside the scope of short-term acute hospitals or skilled nursing facilities, they have a unique and essential niche. From patients receiving complex acute care to physicians providing a team-based, interdisciplinary approach, LTACHs use a model that can speak in some fashion to all healthcare providers.

How can Harmony consultants serve in a long-term acute care hospital?

If you’re interested in bringing your passion and expertise for non-clinical healthcare to this unique type of facility, the team here at Harmony is here to help. We work with these facilities as they develop roles such as:

  • case managers
  • clinical documentation specialists
  • interim revenue cycle leadership
  • data analysts and developers
  • coders
  • CFOs and finance leadership

Learn more about possibilities through Harmony here.

How can Harmony benefit a long-term acute care hospital?

As part of the team that serves patients with such unique needs, you see firsthand the importance of this level of care for patients as well as their loved ones. You also recognize how having the right team in each department can enable your organization to better provide that care.

Here at Harmony, we understand the challenges long-term acute care hospitals see each day. We’re here to support your non-clinical goals with interim staffing and consulting solutions. These solutions work behind the scenes to help you help those who need it the most.

Learn more about how we can empower your long-term acute care hospital here.

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