According to Channel 12 WKRC in Cincinnati (doesn’t Howard Hesseman work there?), residents at the Hillrise Apartment building, which is owned by Cincinnati Business & Professional Women’s Retirement Living Incorporated, are suffering from various issues including bed bugs.

Calvin Merritt’s problems at Hillrise Apartments are pretty simple.

“Mostly bugs, roaches and all that…”

The “all that” is bed bugs. Dead ones were easy to find under Calvin’s mattress, and piles of them behind the bed. When exterminators come in to spray here, their work’s easy to see, pesticide stains run down Calvin’s walls. Calvin pays 313 dollars a month for this one bedroom…what little furniture he had was mostly pitched, because it was infested.

Calvin Merritt, Resident: “I done lost everything got here, my couch, my other chairs, all the stuff I had was new, I had to get rid of all of that.”

At the other end of the hall, Jeanette Jessie doesn’t have any bedbugs, but she worries about them just the same.

Jeanette Jessie, Resident: “They just spread them from one end of the building to the other, this is crazy, get this place cleaned up, spray it at one time and get rid of this mess.”

It sounds a bit like the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA in Washington DC, Halcyon House in Denver, and Warren Towers in East Moline, Illinois. Elderly people, disabled people, and anyone in low-income housing is being dealt a raw deal when it comes to getting rid of bed bugs. Let’s face it, bed bugs are expensive to treat. They’re also a rather sudden problem no one was expecting and no one has budgeted for.

Bed bugs are difficult to treat, too. Traditional treatments require multiple pest control visits at short intervals. Residents must prepare for treatment, which can be a lengthy process and costly too (especially for those on a fixed income).

However, make no mistake: non-aggressive treatment (treating only some of the infested units, treating at too-long intervals, or not coming as many times as needed), waiting for tenants who might be unaware they have bed bugs to report them, and not providing assistance with preparation costs and physical labor–all of these reactions from landlords and housing managers mean that bed bugs will be around longer, spread into more units, and cost much more to get rid of.

It just does not make sense on any practical level to not be aggressive, thorough, and quick to treat bed bugs in a building you are responsible for. It is simply a display of ignorance about the nature of this beast.

We can’t entirely blame landlords for this ignorance; none of us were expecting bed bugs. But we need to educate the public about the signs of bed bugs, and we need to educate professionals in all walks of life (from those who provide housing, to hospitality services, to health care, education, and on and on) about the need for a bed bug protocol which includes both proactive searching for signs of bed bugs, and swift reactions to any bed bug signs or sightings.

Too many people seem to be hoping they’ll just go away. Good luck with that. In the meantime:

Channel 12 reports,

Officials from the Cincinnati Health Department tell us they’ll soon be taking a closer look at conditions in the apartments.

I love the Cincinnati Health Department. But you knew that.

1 parakeets October 5, 2007 at 2:45 pm

Thanks for linking all the elderly housing bedbug stories in one place. What a powerful impact the list made–for a segment of our society that doesn’t have much opportunity to have impact!

Another thing management iof senior housing often does not do (I know directly from someone living in senior housing) is tell tenants when a building has bedbugs. A friend of mine asked what the PCOs in her senior housing were treating since none of the instructions handed out mentioned what bug they were trying to eradicate. She was told her building was being treated for “a new kind of roach.”

At a bedbug conference, a panel claimed that buildings do not disclose bedbugs to the tenants because “pandemonium will ensue.” But if tenants are not told adbout the bedbugs and educated, there is no united and effective front against bedbugs.

Disclosure, education, effective pest management, a united effort between all the stake holders–landlords, tenants, PCOs, building managers, politicians–that’s what we need.

2 Maciej Ceglowski October 5, 2007 at 4:09 pm

Do you know if there has been any coordination of bedbug response across disparate cities – some kind of conference or other means for public agencies at the local level to share mitigation best practices and prevention strategies? It seems like all the responses from various health departments I read about in the news have been purely regional. A federal effort in this direction might be nice, but I wonder who would even be the agency to lead it?

3 nobugsonme October 5, 2007 at 5:08 pm

Hi Maciej!

You’re right, it’s purely local.

But the only real health department response in the US, in my opinion, has been in Cincinnati. A few other cities have coughed up a fact sheet, but Cincinnati is actually doing more, and showing signs they may escalate efforts further. (Correction: California’s Bed Bug Guidelines are also impressive and much needed.)

For the purposes of considering federal responses, what can we compare this to?

A tornado or flood or fire that wipes out your belongings and makes your home barely liveable and in need of prompt, expensive work? (No, not a total destruction, but expensive enough to treat properly that people often can’t do it, or can’t do it without hardship.)

A virus? Unless you are terribly allergic, it won’t kill you. It can deprive you of sleep, which causes stress and does lead to other medical conditions. It can mess up your skin. But the real reason I compare it to a virus is because if your neighbor does not get good treatment, it can afflict you too.

People who have TB need medication. Unmedicated, they walk around spreading it to everyone. If they do not have the education and information (from doctors) that they need to take pills, then others will suffer. It is not a perfect analogy, but if lots of people were walking around with TB, getting others sick, the government would probably step in somehow.

Now imagine a combination of a tornado and a person with TB, and consider the effects mildly-to-seriously unpleasant, mildly-to-moderately destructive to health and property, and moderately-to-highly contagious.

And consider that all those effects are magnified because of a lack of education and a lack of funds, and that the unpleasantness and expense are much worse if one has no control over one’s exposure (ie in a multi-unit building or workplace or other location where one cannot personally stop one’s exposure to the source).

We definitely need a coordinated response, but I think the cities will have to request that, won’t they? And so the first step is admitting you have a problem…

4 DougSummersMS October 5, 2007 at 8:21 pm

California’s Dept of Health is the most proactive state agency with regard to bed bug guidelines. They took the San Francisco Health Dept guidelines and published them as statewide protocols.

California was the first state to require education for hospitality industry staff. They have a great pdf file of pictures and educational materials that can be downloaded from their website.

Doug Summers MS

5 nobugsonme October 5, 2007 at 9:14 pm


I forgot the California bed bug guidelines, and so I amended my comment above. The California and San Francisco guidelines are indeed important.

Cincinnati does not yet have guidelines, though they do have a Bed Bug Remediation Commission, and the act of actually designating a hotline and services for collection of bed bug refuse (exclusively) is impressive. On the other hand, they do need to think about guidelines. For example, by providing dedicated pickups and instructions on wrapping items, are they actually encouraging people to discard things? Should people be educated about the need not to toss everything (since most experts do not recommend this course of action), as well as the need to get prompt professional treatment and to prep for it?

There’s much more to be done.

Unfortunately, we hear from San Francisco and California as a whole that the guidelines are still not being implemented fully. For example, one long-time reader who lived in a SF SRO had the health dept. out to inspect, and he showed them bed bugs, but the reaction was clearly not in line with the guidelines. In many places, laws are not being enforced.

So there’s having a plan, and there’s taking action, and they both need to be integrated and working in concert. Frankly, I am not sure that’s happening anywhere yet.

6 nyjammin October 5, 2007 at 11:01 pm

How many times did I say that it’s the elderly, the children, the disabled, the poor, who are going to have a hard time of it the most. What about beach57 on the forums whose elderly mother-in-law has Alzheimers. What if this elderly woman didn’t have a family. A lotta these eldery and disabled people have no one. They don’t use a computer and cannot reach out for help. These are our forgotten ones on this issue. Shame on America saying that this is not a health issue and only a nuisance!

And Nobugs, I didn’t even know California had guidelines due to the fact that the long-time reader who lives in a SF SRO said that nothing was being done about his building’s infestation of bbs and he had to take drastic measures to keep them at bay and/or get rid of them.

The bubble grows ever fatter. When is it going to explode?

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