Toronto Public Health scrambles for funding to continue bed bug fight

by nobugsonme on May 29, 2012 · 3 comments

in bed bugs, toronto, Toronto Public Health

Q: You know what bed bugs hate?  

A: When people fund smart programs that stop them in their tracks.   

Consider the highly-successful Toronto Public Health Bed Bug Team, which was funded from May 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012.

It was an impressive program which carried out much needed and wide-ranging “control activities,” ranging from inspecting apartments for bed bugs, to educating the public, to intervening between landlords and tenants, to assisting people with cognitive or physical difficulties by preparing them for treatment, and tracking infestations.

Really, the kind of action we need in so many other cities.  The kind of action they so desperately need in Toronto right now.

Q: You know what bed bugs love?

A: When the funding runs out.  Seriously, little bed bug feet are a-clapping.

The successful TPH Bed Bug Team is now seeking provincial and city funding, but the services are currently much curtailed.

And meanwhile, people are suffering.  And still other people are getting bed bugs from those people who are suffering.  It doesn’t do any of us any good when our neighbors have bed bugs.

The solution, of course, is renewed funding: the city already agreed to kick in $180,000 to keep the project going if the province provides $500,000. But the idea was shelved until September, so the city could wait to hear back from the province.

Ahhh, September.  That’s more than three more months of bed bugs breeding.  And that’s no good at all.

So, according to, City Councillor Paula Fletcher introduced a Toronto Board of Health motion yesterday (5/28/12) calling on the city to provide interim funding, so the project can begin operating again, even before an answer comes back about provincial funding.

Let’s hope this urgent need is met.

The Toronto Sun quoted Fletcher,

“During the prime breeding season and spreading season for bed bugs there will be no dedicated force at the City of Toronto to work with vulnerable tenants, to work with residents who are tearing out their hair about what they are going to do,” she said. “It is a resource we can’t afford not to have here.”

The Toronto Public Health bed bug control funding is largely aimed at helping people who cannot otherwise get help with their bed bug problems.

As an article in The Star reported in April,

Tracy Leach, manager of healthy environments at [Toronto Public Health] and leader of the dedicated bedbugs team, said she is “very concerned” about the funding loss and worries most about the vulnerable citizens who are unable to cope with infestations on their own.

According to a report entitled Toronto Public Health Bed Bug Control Activities 2012 (PDF),

From May 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012, TPH assisted 181 vulnerable clients who had bed bug infestations. With one [Public Health Inspector] Bed Bug Specialist available, the number of vulnerable clients that will be annually assisted will be reduced to approximately 30. As of April 13, 2012, there were 16 clients on a waiting list for extreme cleaning. Extreme cleaning costs vary but average approximately $1000 per event.

Despite having [Public Health Nurse] staff to assist the client to comply with landlord requirements and prepare for the cleaning, without the extreme cleaning funds, intervention is not feasible. Other home care services for the client may be restricted because of the infestation. Furthermore vulnerable clients will be unable to stay in their homes because of their health issues. This will cause costly emergency referrals to hospitals, shelters, and Long Term Care. There will be an increase in referrals to other parts of the health care system which is contrary to the provincial Aging at Home strategy.

In other words, not funding extreme cleaning for these clients leads to a snowball effect.

Not funding these services will clearly cost the public more in the long run, as vulnerable clients are forced out of housing and into more expensive care situations.

The Star clarifies the “vulnerable citizen” pool:

Leach says vulnerable citizens are those who have cognitive or physical disabilities that make them unable to identify or deal with bedbugs on their own. People with addictions and mental health problems or those who live in extreme poverty are considered vulnerable.

The concern, she said, is that a vulnerable citizen with an extreme bedbug infestation can become a source or “reservoir” case.

Allowing vulnerable citizens to live with bed bugs in their old housing without extreme cleaning or treatment, or allowing them to be evicted, so they move to new locations without treatment — both of these are terrible situations in which bed bugs will likely spread to many others.

More people suffer, and it costs the public even more.

But those 181 vulnerable clients?  They’re just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the good work this team was doing, and the people it was helping.

TPH’s Bed Bug Team has a total of ten bed bug staff: three Public Health Nurses (PHNs) like those mentioned above, six Public Health Inspectors (PHIs), and one manager.

According to The Star, besides those 181 vulnerable clients, in those eleven months, the team did field inspections for the general public in 4719 rental units, in response to tenant complaints, and found bed bugs in 1,294 of these.  In a city like Toronto, where landlords are responsible for paying for bed bug treatment, there must be a system of inspections in order to aid enforcement efforts.

Other activities included developing a bed bug tracking system, providing identification services to the public, educating landlords and tenants and the general public about bed bugs, intervening with landlords/tenants, supporting shelters and social service housing with training and funding, providing outreach to nursing homes, group homes, and more.

In other words, this is an incredible range of bed bug detection, control and prevention services, which goes beyond any programs we’re aware of in other cities.

A chart in the TPH report (PDF) on page six demonstrates how terribly those services have been curtailed (as of 5/14/12) in the absence of continued funding.

Oh, and about the “times are tight right now” counter-argument?  The one that usually means bed bug projects get short shrift? reports it was also announced Monday that Toronto has a multi-million dollar operating surplus.

That should make things a bit easier. Let’s hope the city can come through for this program.

It will continue to be money well spent.

It will help stop the spread of bed bugs.

Hey Toronto: you might want to talk to your Mayor and City Council Members!

1 CarpathianPeasant May 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm


Without a doubt a Class AAAA blog posting.

Thank you very much. I plan to pass it on locally.

2 nobugsonme May 29, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Thanks for your kind words, CarpathianPeasant!

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