The facilities staff at Victory Centre of Joliet, a division of Pathway Senior Living in Joliet, Ill., strongly believes in four guiding priorities — safety, compassion, presentation and efficiency. This vision was put to the test in July 2010 when an employee noticed small bugs in one of the resident senior apartments. Upon closer inspection, the pests were identified as bed bugs — a surprise to the facility team.

"A week before the bed bugs were found by the life enrichment aid, we didn't even know what a bed bug looked like," says Rick Dewitt, maintenance manager. "We had read that bed bugs were making their way into facilities, but we never thought it would happen to us."

First Response To Bed Bugs

Although the team didn't have any formal pest control procedures in place, their first instinct was to safely remove the resident and isolate the room until proper steps could be outlined.

"We didn't want to do anything that would make the bed bug problem worse," he says. "We wanted to make sure we did everything right for our residents."

But as staff members cleaned, additional residents complained about bed bug bites. It soon became obvious that the bed bug problem had expanded into other areas of the facility. Dewitt was forced to evacuate the additional residents and focus on efficiency in combating the pests.

To determine exactly how big a problem he had, Dewitt brought in certified bed bug dogs to sniff out and identify problem areas. The results surprised the entire facilities team. It was determined that the bed bugs had infested more than 65 percent of the building — 50 percent of that was considered an active area of bed bugs.

"We had a very large problem," Dewitt says. He quickly realized that managing and eliminating the bed bugs would become a full-time job.

Fighting Bed Bugs

Dewitt's first step in the fight against bed bugs was to arm all facilities services personnel with proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Once the staff was protected and the problem areas had been identified and quarantined, the team set out to kill and remove the bed bugs.

"Bugs have to be approached in different ways," says Dewitt. "We started with a chemical dust treatment that was applied throughout the vacant rooms. The dust is designed to attract, trap and essentially kill the bed bugs."

The team also conducted close inspections of the bed, bed frame, chairs, linens and the entire area surrounding the bed in each of the affected rooms. Interceptors — a device that prevents bed bugs from climbing from the floor to the bed — were also used. The bed bugs get caught inside the device and die.

To tackle both hard and soft surfaces, steam machines were used to kill bed bug eggs. But, says Dewitt, unless adult bugs were trapped, they would simply move away from the steam. So to collect those adults, Dewitt instituted a daily vacuuming regimen in all areas with active bed bugs.

These processes were effective at keeping the bed bugs under control, but they didn't eradicate the pests as quick as Dewitt would have liked. So, after six months of giving his full-time attention to pest control, Dewitt hammered the final nail in the coffin — a heat treatment.

At the suggestion of a colleague, he invited a professional pest control contractor to come in with an electronic furnace, which heated the room to 120 degrees Fahrenheit for four hours. The bed bugs were attracted to the heat, quickly dehydrated and were killed.

"It was expensive, but in the end it worked," says Dewitt. "The treatment was also able to be done safely, it didn't require pesticides and it didn't require the removal of anything from the resident rooms. It was an easy in-and-out in one day."

Methods To Prevent Bed Bugs

Victory Centre of Joliet has been free of bed bugs for almost two years now, but Dewitt continues to stress pest prevention and open communication regarding this pest control issue.

"During the bed bug outbreak, we got the families involved, so they knew what was going on at the facility," he says. "Ninety percent of it was taken very well and everyone was gracious of how we handled things."

Even today, the staff discusses bed bugs with every new resident prior to move-in. During orientation, staff will explain that in small living quarters, there is greater potential for a bed bug problem, but measures are in place to help combat any outbreaks.

This open communication extends to the staff as well. Dewitt has made it very clear to everyone on staff that preventative measures would be status quo moving forward. Inspections take place within one week of a new occupant arrival and continue on a weekly basis for all resident spaces indefinitely. The department also holds an extended annual mandatory training on pest prevention for all staff.

"We make sure the staff is aware of what is going on by providing constant reminders," says Dewitt.

Those reminders include updated bed bug signage and photographs that workers keep on cleaning carts, as well as bed bug responder kits. Signage helps staff identify a bed bug, as well as the steps necessary to quarantine an affected room. The responder kits include markers, chemical dust, a list of what to inspect, mattress covers for encasing affected furniture, flashlights and PPE. Dewitt is also looking into including blacklights to help identify bed bug eggs.

"The bed bug kits guarantee that every employee will be ready to react in case of an outbreak," he says. "It is essential that the department be prepared."

Dewitt has learned from his experiences and stresses to other facility executives the importance of being prepared.

"A manager's biggest mistake is thinking that they can't get bed bugs, but no facility is immune," he says. "The key is to find the pests early and know how to get rid of them."