Bed bugs and the elderly: a story from St. Paul

by nobugsonme on June 4, 2008 · 2 comments

in bed bug bites, bed bug dogs, bed bugs, bed bugs and the elderly, how to detect bed bugs

This article from tells the saga of Evie Kelly, of St. Paul, Minnesota.

She has bed bugs in her apartment in a building for senior citizens:

“It’s hard. I hate it,” a resigned and visibly worn-out Kelly said last week while she sat in her public senior citizen high-rise apartment on Ravoux Street. She is forced to sit and sometimes sleep on a lawn chair in her living room because the little buggers have taken over the bed, couch and recliner.

It would not be so bad, however, if her building management were more proactive about getting her help:

Adding salt to the bites Kelly has endured, her efforts as well as those of relatives and others the past two weeks to get someone to address the bedbug infestation have mostly fallen on deaf ears.

“The (building site manager) came up here, looked around, found nothing and told my aunt that if there were bedbugs here, he would eat his shirt,” said Louise Sebesta.

Actually, he will need to do that. The article’s author, Rubén Rosario, suggested Sebesta, Kelly’s niece, take some samples to be identified by bed bug researcher Stephen Kells, at the University of Minnesota, and she did.

Kells confirmed they were bed bugs. And he said,

“We are seeing more problems with people in assisted-living facilities and low-income areas, and it’s not because they are dirty, and it’s not because they are unclean,” Kells told us. “Bedbugs will feed on me. They will feed on anyone in this lab. The problem is that people who are in assisted living do not have the resources to adequately control them once they do get them. Money is a big reason.”

Kells explained that it could take $500 to upward of $3,000 to effectively treat one apartment and $50,000 to $80,000 to treat a whole building, as has been done in major urban areas.

Even though Kelly and Sebesta had found bed bugs, and a bed bug expert had identified them, it took weeks of phone calls from Sebesta as well as Kelly’s public health nurse, to get the problem addressed. Rosario writes:

Sebesta called public housing officials and a slew of city, state and federal agencies in the past two weeks to relay her aunt’s plight. She had received no return calls when I spoke with her last week.

Jeanette Buckley, Kelly’s county public health nurse, confirmed she has also called similar numbers since May 14 with similar nonresults.

She finally got a return call Tuesday from Cheryl Hawley, who works as a human services coordinator for the St. Paul Public Housing Agency. The federally funded organization owns and operates 16 senior public high-rises in the city.

According to Buckley, Hawley mentioned that the site manager had already gone to Kelly’s place and found nothing. She suggested that the manager might be sent back for another look.

To make the long story short, Kelly’s apartment has now been inspected (again): bed bugs were confirmed and the unit is receiving treatment.

But I can see some problems that this scenario highlights.

First, many people with bed bugs do not react to bed bug bites. Others will react but not see bed bugs. Fewer will react to bed bug bites, see bed bugs, and report them.

Those who do need careful and thorough responses, to be sure. And we can hope St. Paul Public Housing Agency officials will be reviewing their procedures to make sure things run more smoothly for the next Evie Kelly who reports bed bugs.

However, given the difficulties of recognizing the problem and of detecting bed bugs, I hope that city agencies will become more proactive — especially when it comes to housing for senior citizens.

Although bed bug dogs are not foolproof, they could be a very useful tool in helping detect bed bug infestations in apartment buildings before they get out of hand.

And seniors in buildings like Kelly’s need to be educated about the resurgence of bed bugs and the signs of bed bugs.

They need to know that they may not feel any bed bug bites or see any bed bugs (and their building managers need to know this too!)

Finally, they need to be reminded that bed bugs spread easily and don’t have anything to do with cleanliness, and that they should not be afraid to come forward when they suspect a problem.

1 Chuck Bongiovanni June 4, 2008 at 4:01 pm

This is a serious and unknown problem. I feel that no matter the cost the local government should force the building owners to treat the building. WHere are the assisted living regulators or the HUD regulator?

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