Establishing thresholds in pest control

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

How many pests are acceptable in your healthcare facility?

That's a loaded question. And the answer isn't as simple as it seems.

Sure, one pest is too many in a healthcare facility. That's especially true if a patient or guest sees one. Patients and guests have an extremely low tolerance level for pests like bed bugs and rodents.

But aiming for zero pest sightings – even with a great pest control partner – can be unattainable. Thresholds are best set by working with your pest control professional because there are several factors that come into play.

When you sit down to have a conversation about thresholds, keep these questions in mind:

Do your expectations jive with your environment?

The building and the environment you're in play a major role in the thresholds you can set.

For instance, an assisted living facility surrounded by woods in Florida will face different pressures than a hospital in downtown Cleveland. Older buildings that have cracks will be more vulnerable to pest pressures than newer LEED buildings that are sealed tightly. Even different building materials can make a difference.

If you're in an older facility and never want to see a pest, your pest management provider may suggest several exclusion recommendations that can cost thousands of dollars. Are you willing to spend that money to reduce pest entry points?

In my experience, many managers are not. But it's worth every penny.

Are your expectations and timeline reasonable?

If you have a newer building with no current pest issues, it's perfectly reasonable to work with your pest management provider to set a zero pest threshold. If you have no pests currently, it's best to keep it that way, so continue partnering with your pest management provider to adjust your IPM program over time.

But if you are currently battling pests – whether they are cockroaches, bed bugs, ants, flies or rodents – going from a threshold of 1,000 to zero takes time. Work with your pest management provider to create a timeline for steady and reasonable improvement.

What pests are you dealing with?

A single ant crawling across a lobby may not necessarily be a sign of a major pest problem. But bed bugs in a patient's room can create a five-alarm issue.

While some thresholds are imposed by government regulations, many pests are afforded different thresholds due to cultural responses. Many people will put up with – and probably not even notice -- that rogue ant in your lobby, but a cockroach in the same area will cause a much larger stir.

Every threshold is different. Talk with your professional about the pests you want on your zero tolerance list.

How can you keep track of pest pressures?

There are several methods pest management professionals can use to help manage your pest issues while also measuring against your thresholds.

Fly lights, insect traps and sticky glue boards are often used to record pest activity levels and stop pests in their tracks. In fact, many of these products can be used outside or near entrances to help keep pests outside of your operations.

Make sure you and your pest provider keep records of all pest issues. As you do, you can determine whether progress is being made in the long-term against your thresholds timeline, and you can also prepare your facility for seasonal pest pressures in advance. Remember, a pest provider should have your thresholds and goals clearly written into your scope of service.

With thresholds in place, you and your provider can begin making sure your facility is as pest-free as possible.

Ron Harrison, Entomologist, Ph.D., is Director of Technical Services for Orkin. Contact him at or visit for more information.





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