Patrick T. Copps

Once a pest expected only to be encountered on rare occasion, bed bugs are more prevalent than you’d think in healthcare facilities — especially in long-term care and assisted living facilities. In fact, more than a quarter of respondents to an Association for the Healthcare Environment survey earlier this year indicated they had experienced a problem with bed bugs in their facility.

Like hotels, healthcare facilities are perfect homes for the ever-traveling bed bugs, which journey along with humans in their belongings and occasionally on their clothes. Primarily nocturnal, bed bugs seeking a blood meal are attracted to their human hosts at night and then disappear into cracks and crevices, behind picture frames, bed frames, baseboards and other areas during the day. Once inside, bed bugs can spread quickly from room to room on hospital beds, laundry carts, or even on housekeeping equipment.

Unlike other insects like cockroaches, which survive and thrive in locations with poor sanitation, bed bugs can be present in areas with stringent sanitation practices. They can just as easily show up in a five star resort as they can a roadside motel, which means your facility is at risk no matter how clean or well maintained.

Treating for bed bugs in a healthcare facility can be a real challenge with dire consequences if the wrong materials and methods are used. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently advised the public of the misuse of pesticides to treat bed bug infestations. According to the advisory, some pesticides are being applied indoors even though they are approved only for outdoor use. Even pesticides that are approved for indoor use must be used by trained and licensed professionals according to the product label.

The CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency recommend an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan to help beat bed bugs. Work with your pest management provider to implement a proactive monitoring program and establish an appropriate bed bug response protocol.

Here are some guidelines you can follow to help keep your facility free from bed bugs:

Look for a sign

While you may not see a bed bug during the day, you can look for the tiny, rust-colored stains they leave behind on mattress seams, ceilings, under seat cushions and behind headboards. The adult bugs which are about the size and shape of an apple seed may be found in potential hiding places like mattress seams or the corners of box springs, buckling wallpaper or at the edges of carpet. Should you find any of these signs, alert your pest management professional immediately.

Do not disturb

If you spot activity, do not disturb the room any further. Leave the scene untouched – don’t take anything out of the room, either – so that pest management professionals can diagnose the problem. Take the room out of service immediately. If the room is occupied, work with facility management and medical staff to move patients to a new room, but leave everything else behind for treatment.  

Help your provider help you

After your pest management provider inspects the room, you may be asked to help prepare the designated area for service by:

  • Pulling furniture away from walls
  • Providing access to cabinets or plumbing voids
  • Removing or loosening all items attached to the walls
  • Loosening carpet around the perimeter of each room

Keep your staff up to speed

The bed bug infestation isn’t the only thing you’ll need to manage. It’s important to be open with employees if an infestation exists so that they can help monitor the process and communicate with patients about any concerns. Encourage your staff to be vigilant and report any possible infestations to management whether at home or at work. Contact your pest management provider to arrange for a staff awareness training session.

While treating a bed bug problem can be costly, the damage these pests can do – disturbing patients, causing complaints about sanitary conditions and damaging your reputation – can cost your facility even more in the long run. By staying proactive with your inspections and working with your pest management professional to treat bed bugs immediately, you can properly ward off infestations and keep this pest in the past.

Patrick Copps is Technical Services Manager for Orkin’s Pacific Division. A Board Certified Entomologist in urban and industrial entomology, Mr. Copps has more than 35 years experience in the industry. He can be reached at [email protected]