Keep ants on the outside looking in

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Greg Baumann
Greg Baumann

If you've been in the long term care business for a while, you've probably had to battle an ant or two inside your facility.

You're not alone. In the last three annual Association for the Healthcare Environment (AHE) member surveys on pest management, ants have reigned at the top as both the most common pest in healthcare facilities and the toughest to control.

There are several reasons why this is the case. Ants can enter through the tiniest openings and nest out of sight in walls, storage rooms and in the landscaping surrounding a building. Once ants get into a building, they leave an invisible scent trail for others in their colony, which can boast a population upward of 500,000, to follow. What's more, because they communicate through pheromones, ants can signal a warning to the colony to disperse and relocate if they sense a threat.

And while ants are drawn to leftover crumbs and food left lying around, AHE members report that oftentimes these pests are brought in by patients and visitors.

Because of their strong survival instincts, ant colonies can be very difficult to control once inside your facility. Work with your pest management professional to implement an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program that keeps ants on the outside looking in.

By eliminating attractants, an IPM approach can help control ant colonies and prevent them from forming to begin with. A pest management professional can help customize an IPM program for your facility and target the specific kind of ants you are dealing with – there are more than 12,000 species.

Here are a few steps you can take to make sure ants don't march on your facility:

Outside

While guests and residents can track ants into your facility, many threats that you will face will come from outside – and near – your building. Now is a great time to take a look at your landscaping, your parking lot and your facility's exterior.

Trim back vegetation and tree branches to create a two-foot buffer around your perimeter. Ants can use those limbs and bushes that brush up against your building as a vehicle to gain access. From there, they can squeeze through slim gaps in walls, doors and windows.

Work with your pest management professional to identify these gaps and close them. Install weather stripping on doors, window screens and seal holes with copper mesh and weather-resistant sealant.

Inspect your grounds and parking lots regularly to make sure that they are free from trash that can attract ants. If ants find a little appetizer outside, they may want to get inside for the entree.

Inside

In food preparation areas, make sure all food is put away in airtight containers. Make sure that employee break rooms are free of any crumbs or food sitting in the open, and clean up any spills immediately. Don't forget about spilled food or drinks in recycling bins – a favorite target for ants.

Have your pest management professional talk to your staff about what they can do to help keep ants from becoming a problem in your facility – many providers offer staff training at no extra cost.

Ask your staff to report any ant sightings to your pest management professional. Also, create a written sanitation program and educate your staff on the role they play in it. From the break room to patient rooms, have your staff follow these steps to ensure ants don't have reason to venture in or hang around.

Special Treatments

If ant problems persist, special treatment may be required to control the infestation. Talk to your pest management professional about using low-impact treatments such as baits, which incorporate a food source plus control product which the ants can take back to the colony and spread to control the ants.

Work with your pest management professional to implement these and other IPM tactics to help keep ants out of your facility.

Greg Baumann is Vice President of Training and Technical Services for Orkin.  A degreed chemist and licensed pest management professional, his global pest management experience spans 30 years.  For more information, e-mail gbaumann@orkin.com

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