Functional decline is a common complication for hospitalized older adults. Illuminating the factors that influence the physical function of hospitalized older adults is critical in order to develop effective interventions to prevent avoidable loss of function. Twenty-four older adults in three senior centres located in metropolitan New York City, who had recent experience with hospitalization, participated in focus groups to discover these factors. An exploratory qualitative design was used. Participants defined physical function as the ability to be mobile and resume the enactment of their roles, routines and relationships. Participants also believed that hospitalization should improve physical function. They described staff and system supports of, as well as the challenges to physical function in the hospital setting. The findings provide evidence for developing education programmes as well as new models of nursing care aimed at preventing functional decline.