The number of skilled nursing facilities reporting a shortage or nurses, aides or doctors increased dramatically last year, according to an analysis of government data released last week by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group. 

The percentage of nursing homes with a shortage of at least one category of staff was 19.9% in May, rising to 22.8% in December, the report showed. 

Although short staffing historically has been a concern within the industry, last year’s increase was a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say. In addition, the shortages have caused “a circular nightmare,” according to the report, fueling additional COVID outbreaks in nursing homes among residents and staff. 

“More cases mean more stress for workers and more workers who contract the virus or are exposed, which then leads to even more staff shortages,” report authors wrote. “The end result: In many cases, when there aren’t enough workers, patient care suffers.”

Although the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines is encouraging, the problems facing nursing homes are snowballing, and the situation may erupt before the pandemic subsides, said Michael Barnett, M.D., assistant professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“It’s a recipe for a collapse in the workforce,” Barnett said. 

This article appeared in the McKnight’s Business Daily, a joint effort of McKnight’s Senior Living and McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.