Independent Living Management: Proactive Bed Bug Prevention

Bed bugs have become a big problem again in recent years in the United States. Unlike cockroaches, which are attracted to messy homes, lack of cleanliness has little to do with attracting bed bugs. Unfortunately, bed bugs have infested a number of housing complexes for the elderly, including nursing homes and independent living centers. And they not only can hurt such facilities' reputation, but infestations can lead to serious health risks for your residents. Getting bitten by a bed bug, and the itchiness (and scratching those itches) could result in secondary skin infections and even MRSA, according to Long-Term Living magazine. It can also hurt everyone's peace of mind; making your residents apprehensive and ruining the comfortable environment you are trying to cultivate. The consequences for independent living facilities suffering from a prolonged infestation issue can be devastating for managers and residents alike. For example, in North Carolina, the state's Department of Health and Human Services is working to take away the license of a senior assisted living community because of a bed bug infestation. The state said that the Tabor City facility's infestation caused an "imminent danger to the health, safety and welfare of the residents." The 71 residents had to be placed into new homes, which meant that the friendships they formed in their independent living community were shattered. They also lost the familiar surroundings they had in their previous home. But because the bed bug infestation was so severe, they had to be removed from the place they called home. This story truly shows why it's so crucial to be proactive with unit bed bug detection and prevention, so that things don't get out of hand. There are a variety of reasons why bed bug infestations are a common occurrence in these senior independent housing centers:

  • The first is one prone to any form of multi-unit housing: with people coming and going so frequently, bed bugs have more of an opportunity to "hitch a ride," so to speak, on someone or their possessions and move into the complex -- and then move from one apartment to another.

  • It is also common for senior residents in independent living centers to be suffering from early stages of Dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Which means they might not even realize that their apartment or room has been infested.

  • Also, it's hard enough to spot bed bugs, even for those with perfect eyesight. Keep in mind senior citizens' eyesight may be waning, which can make it even harder for them to see if there are bed bugs in their unit.

  • The older furniture that many seniors have had for years could be a high risk of becoming a breeding ground for bed bugs. One that if not careful could be brought in with your new residents.

  • Seniors may be traveling to and from their independent living home to visit family and friends, or vice versa. And the more travel and people that are involved, the more likely that bed bugs can make their way into your building.

  • While cleanliness per se will not prevent bed bugs, seniors who live in clutter are prime candidates for 'hidden' bed bugs.

  • The elderly are also prone to a variety of skin infections, including rashes and ulcers, which may make verifying bed bug bites more difficult, and prevent them from realizing that their homes have been infested.

How to Manage Infestations in Your Independent Living Facility

Fortunately, bed bugs do not have to be a way of life for independent living residents. There are effective ways to combat them and stop them from coming back -- or keep them from showing up in the first place. Because we know how much of a challenge this could be for facility managers we collected some helpful tips in accordance with integrated pest management guidelines from our team of bed bug specialists:

  • Staff education is key. Since adult bed bugs are only about the size of an apple seed, and are mainly active at night, they may be hard to easily spot. So training your staff to be on the lookout for the signs associated with bed bugs is essential. For instance, an infestation could leave detritus on bed headboards, or tiny bloodstains on sheets. But since staff turnover may be high, it's important to regularly educate them; we would suggest even making it part of your company's orientation to your center.

  • Set up a proactive plan on what to do if your facility finds bed bugs, and make sure the staff follows it. You may want to have a bed bug company on call for dealing with the issue, especially one with a certified bed bug dog. That's because dogs' noses are so much more powerful than humans, and canines that are certified and trained to sniff out bed bugs can have as much as a 90% success rate, something that human bed bug inspectors alone simply cannot match.

  • In addition to having a bed bug inspector and dog on call you, you should have them show up now and then to do an inspection, even if you are unaware of a current problem. This can help nip any small infestation that you might not even know about in the bud, before it escalates to a much bigger issue. Make regular inspections a way of life at your facility.

  • Make sure that any bed bug treatment does not interfere with the residents' quality of life, their daily routines, or with any medical care they may be receiving.

  • Have a budget in place for bed bug treatment costs. It is a necessary cost of doing business, especially when running an independent living facility.

  • Keep an eye on any seniors who may have issues with clutter or hoarding, as bed bugs may be hiding in the mess.

  • Did you know that bed bugs can hitch a ride on furniture and bedding? You should establish as part of your bed bug policy that any new tenant moving in must have his or her household goods inspected before they move in, and that all bedding must go through the dryer in high heat for at least 20 minutes to kill any residual bugs.

  • Inform residents of the common signs of bed bugs, and have a written policy for them to agree to and follow. You may want to put it in large type, as senior citizens' eyesight may need it. Also include pictures of what infestations look like, so they know what to look for.

  • Always be compassionate with residents, so they understand that telling management about possible bed bugs in their home is nothing to be ashamed of and is actually for the benefit of the entire building.

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