As the summer months approach, the invasion of bugs into indoor spaces, especially in long-term care and senior care facilities, becomes a pressing issue. These pests are driven indoors by the search for food and water, the need to escape the heat, and their attraction to indoor plants, posing a significant threat to the comfort and health of our vulnerable seniors.

Also, bugs tend to be attracted to areas where humans are present because more food is available in the summer. For instance, during the summer months, there is usually more “open food,” such as help-yourself fruit plates on tables. More fruit drinks are being served, which means more spills to attract more pests.

Further, food and drinks may be left out for prolonged periods, attracting bugs. In a noticeably brief period, these critters can quickly become a nuisance in senior centers. They are attracted to the odor of food and soon take the next step — they move in and create homes in these facilities.

To combat this issue, many providers have resorted to increased pesticide use. However, it’s crucial to note that these chemicals, while effective against bugs, can pose a significant and immediate risk to human health. This risk is particularly heightened for seniors, who may be more vulnerable to the adverse effects of these substances.

“As you age, your immune system ages with you,” according to a 2022 U.S. News & World Report article.  “There’s even a medical term for it — immunosenescence — the gradual decrease in immune function that comes with age.”

Here are some of the reasons for this gradual decrease and why the owners and managers of senior-specific facilities need to be acutely aware of them and take immediate action:

  • Increased absorption: As we age, our skin becomes thinner. If seniors encounter pesticides on the surface, they are more rapidly absorbed by the skin than if someone younger touches the same surface.
  • Slower removal: The liver and kidney of an older person have a slower removal process once they encounter pesticides. Therefore, these chemicals can accumulate in the blood system, potentially leading to severe and long-lasting health problems for seniors.
  • Fat storage: Seniors often have more body fat than we may realize. Pesticides become stored in fat, can build up over time, and lead to health issues.
  • Health complications: Pesticides can include ingredients that are linked to severe health conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This underscores the need for caution and exploring alternative pest control methods.

The most effective alternative is more cleaning and more effective cleaning. High-performance cleaning helps minimize what attracts bugs and other pesticides into a facility in the first place. Continuing the process throughout the summer — if not throughout the year — can help keep senior locations safer and healthier.

How to do it

The first step involves selecting a well-qualified janitorial distributor. Often termed an “exceptional” distributor within the industry, these distributors are provided with ongoing education programs to familiarize themselves with various cleaning-related issues, including preventing pests from infiltrating a facility.

The next major step involves selecting environmentally preferable, or “green,” cleaning solutions. These have a reduced impact on housekeepers, immune-compromised residents and the environment while still being effective.

These are the next steps:

  1. Increase custodial training: Whether your cleaning service is in-house or contracted, proper training is imperative. ISSA, a worldwide cleaning association, can provide training and education. Further, a knowledgeable distributor can provide this training. Nothing can be accomplished until this first step is completed.
  2. Begin early: Implementing high-performing cleaning strategies before the summer months is essential. If we wait until pests are noticed in the facility, eradicating them becomes much more difficult. Always remember: prevention is key.
  3. Take preventive steps:  This includes reducing clutter, sealing areas where pests may enter the facility, and maintaining clean kitchens and dining rooms.
  4. Effective trash disposal and management: Rodents like to dine on garbage. Ensuring garbage areas inside and outside the senior care facility are clean lowers the chances that pests will be attracted to your facility. Additionally, ensure dumpsters are kept clean and closed so pests can’t get inside. Check that they are leakproof, preventing contaminated fluids from leaking below the dumpster.
  5. Proper food storage: This is essential and includes dry food items. Before storing any food items, clean the storage area thoroughly. From here, regular cleaning routines should be established to prevent the buildup of dirt and food particles that can entice pests to invade the storage area.
  6. Should you clean, sanitize, or disinfect? Cleaning is the removal of soil from a surface. Many green cleaning solutions are available to do this. Sanitizing goes a step further. It reduces the number of pathogens on a surface to “safe levels.” However, disinfectants go even further. Disinfectants remove all pathogens on a surface per the product’s label. This added step may be needed to eliminate all pathogens on a surface that can spread disease and attract pests. (See disinfectant use warnings below.)
  7. Remove any leftover or standing food and water throughout the facility as soon as possible. Once again, these attract pests.
  8. Documentation: When it comes to pest control strategies, documentation is a requirement. A documented list of cleaning tasks provides a guide for housekeepers on what must be cleaned and how often. It can also help determine where more cleaning may be necessary.
  9. Continually monitor and evaluate: Conduct thorough walk-throughs of the entire center with your distributor, housekeepers and managers. Monitoring and evaluating should be performed for all cleaning tasks, but most importantly, when it comes to pest management and senior-care locations.

Disinfectant use warnings

• Always read all instructions on how to use the disinfectant, including its dwell time, or how long the disinfectant must stay on the surface before being wiped off.

• Disinfectants should only be used where they are necessary.

• Important: always clean surfaces first then apply disinfectants. 

• If the disinfectant dries on a surface, it must be reapplied.

• Work with an exceptional distributor. They know how to use disinfectants properly.

Michael Wilson is the CEO of AFFLINK, a distributor membership organization made up of 300 distributors in North America. He has been with the organization since 2006 and provides strategic leadership for distributor members around the country.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.

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