Spring is here, nursing homes: Be prepared for unwanted pests

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Ron Harrison, Ph.D.
Ron Harrison, Ph.D.

In today's tough economic climate, healthcare administrators may be forced to cut important initiatives to save money. For instance, expensive third-party training for your staff may no longer be a budget line item.

Unfortunately, pests won't let a slow economy stop them from entering your facility in search of the four elements they need to survive: food, water, shelter and optimal temperatures. With visitors traveling in and out of your building on a daily basis, pests such as bed bugs and cockroaches can hitchhike their way in on luggage, and gnats can make their way in on flowers and plants brought to residents.

The good news is that you can still familiarize your staff with pest management efforts without blowing your budget.

Anyone familiar with long-term care facilities knows that pest presence can threaten the health and safety of patients. Roaches, rodents and flies can spread disease-causing pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella. In addition, a pest infestation can compromise your reputation for quality care-potentially leading to a failed Joint Commission inspection, unwanted media attention and expensive lawsuits.

That's why it's imperative to train staff members on the signs of pest presence and how to prevent them. Consider these easy-to-implement tips to encourage staff cooperation while keeping your budget in check.

Get on board with integrated pest management
Integrated pest management (IPM) is an environmentally friendly approach that prevents pests through a combination of non-chemical solutions. IPM helps reduce pest presence by removing the elements that attract pests to your facility, relying on chemical treatments as a last resort and only then in the least volatile form.

Some pest management providers offer on-site IPM training for your staff-providing them with the know-how and necessary tools to assist in pest management efforts. Check with your pest management provider to see what educational materials they can share with your staff. Remind your employees that effective pest management depends on the cooperation of all.

Clean up and keep pests out
Implementing an effective IPM program relies on stringent sanitation and facility maintenance efforts. By eliminating the food and water sources that attract pests to your facility in the first place, you can dramatically cut your risk of an infestation and the need for chemical treatments. Educate your staff on the role sanitation plays in effective pest management. From a drink spill left on the cafeteria floor to crumbs remaining on a patient's bedside table, pests can make a meal out of almost anything. Fortunately, minor improvements to your regular cleaning efforts can make a big difference. Work with your pest management professional to develop a written sanitation program that will help everyone stay on track.

In addition to rigorous sanitation practices, facility maintenance helps keep pests outside where they belong. Cockroaches only need 1/16 of an inch to enter your facility, while rats can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter and mice a hole the size of a dime. Make sure employees close doors behind them. Ask them to report any cracks or gaps in the building's foundation so your maintenance department can seal the openings immediately.

Be on the lookout for signs of pests
Pests are usually good about keeping out of sight, but they do leave some tell-tale signs that they've been wandering your facility. That's why your staff should be your "eyes and ears" when it comes to pest management. Partner with your pest management professional to educate your staff on the evidence pests leave behind. For instance, brown stains on mattresses can indicate the presence of bed bugs, while chew marks, droppings and exoskeletons can signify potential rodent and insect infestations.

Make sure your staff also knows how to identify your facility's pest "hot spots," or areas most likely to attract pests, including patient rooms, laundry, vending and dining areas, storage and linen closets, and waste disposal zones. Employees should inspect these areas regularly for signs of a pest infestation and report any sightings to management immediately.

Remember that keeping pests out of your facility is everyone's responsibility. By focusing on the three Cs - communication, cooperation and commitment - you can ensure tighter budgets don't lead to looser pest defenses.

Ron Harrison, Entomologist, Ph.D., is Director of Technical Services for Orkin and an acknowledged leader in the field of pest management. Contact Dr. Harrison at rharriso@orkin.comor visit www.orkincommercial.com for more information.

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