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Bed Bugs Emerge as Challenge for Assisted Living Facilities

Source: Published in McKnight’s Long Term Care News & Assisted Living

Bed bugs thrive, in part, because they are difficult to find, even for those of us with the keenest of eyes. For the elderly living in assisted living facilities, it may be near impossible for them to spot the tell-tale signs, especially for those whose health may be waning.

Just like hotels and college dorms, assisted living centers represent prime feeding grounds for bed bugs. The more people sleeping under one roof, the better the more opportunities there are for these wingless insects to feed. And while bed bugs can make themselves at home in an assisted living facility, everyone who enters the building – including staff and visitors – runs the risk of bring bed bugs home with them.

Being wingless, bed bugs’ chief mode of transportation is simply hitching a ride in someone’s belongings or even their clothing. An assisted living facility – or any location for that matter – can be infested through no fault of its own by someone who inadvertently transports the blood suckers into the building.

Bed bugs represent more than a quality of life issue for people of all ages.

Bed bugs are a medical problem in that they cause itchy bites to human skin and can lead to secondary infections. Bed bugs have recently been shown to carry MRSA. Bed bugs also give psychological distress and social stigma. Additionally, bed bugs present reputational risks for assisted living facilities with residents’ families having great concerns and media outlets demonstrating attention.

My firm, Bell Environmental, recently hosted a seminar for assisted living facility executives and administrators on the topic of bed bugs. My colleague, Peter DiEduardo, told the assembled group that it’s not a matter of if a facility has bed bugs, it’s a matter of when. Those who diminish the challenge bed bugs represent and the issues that they cause tend to have bigger problems when bed bugs strike. We believe having a proactive approach helps to minimize issues when bed bugs are introduced.

There are several steps nursing home administrators can take to help reduce the risks of infestations. When it comes to bed bugs, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. At the senior facilities where Bell Environmental provides bed bug services, we tell all employees – everyone from the owner to the medical staff – that they should be prepared to identify and act on issues to avoid the problems that stem from major infestations.

Our experts – entomologists and our remediation technicians — recommend assisted living facilities have protocols in place for the detection, prevention and elimination of bed bugs. These plans need to be created in advance of any infestation. We believe improvising when issues arise will create additional problems, cause delays, and leave out essential measures. Essential elements to include are room preparations, resident relocation, housekeeping, pest control, communications strategy. Specifically, Bell Environmental recommends that assisted living centers:

  • Implement prevention strategies, including rules about checking any furniture from the outside for bed bugs and ensure that bedding has been run through a high heat cycle.
  • Design proactive education programs to inform staff about the issue and the protocols on an ongoing basis, given staff turnover.
  • Develop detection processes that include frequent inspections of critical areas and scheduling canine detection teams on a periodic basis. Remember, bed bugs can be introduced into a facility at any time. By the time bed bugs are easily seen, it’s too late. An infestation is has already become full blown.
  • When issues arise, act with the urgency and seriousness necessary to show the institution’s concern for the welfare of residents and staff and solve problems before they spread.
  • Maintain clear and consistent communication strategies when issues arise, including maintaining a chain of command and discretion to avoid causing panic.
  • Determine if and how the center should educate residents about bed bugs.
  • Select safe, effective, and thorough pest control treatment methods that do not affect residents’ health. Use only experienced and reputable pest control companies whose bed bug treatments are primarily physical in nature. Chemicals should only be used as a secondary measure, if at all.
  • Show the foremost concern about protecting residents’ health while eliminating an infestation. Treatment decisions should be careful not to disrupt resident routines and care.
  • Budget for bed bug detection and treatment costs; understand how they are a distinct issue from other pest control and maintenance expenses.

We’ve watched as bed bugs have emerged as significant problems in residential, business, health care, and educational settings in rural, suburban, and urban communities. Bell Environmental believes it is essential to be prepared for the unwelcome arrival of these insects. Creating protocols that lessen the ways of these critters can be introduced into a facility and ensuring that remediation plans are in place, will limit the risk of full-blown infestations that can affect residents’ health, employees’ well-being, and a facility’s reputation.

Glenn Waldorf is a director with Bell Environmental Services, based in Fairfield, N.J.