Care facility bites back

Every staff member and resident who sees Chase the dog wants to stop and say hello to him. Chase is patient with the attention; he sits quietly, even in the elevator. The lab/retriever cross is one of two bedbug-sniffing dogs who make monthly visits to the supportive and independent living centre.

Today’s inspection begins in an empty room in the Assisted Living wing where Chase, his handler Sue Trautman and her colleague Joan Achtymichuk will demonstrate how a bedbug search pattern works and what Chase is looking for.

“I don’t know what he’ll do with the camera,” says Sue, while a GoPro camera is fastened to the dog’s collar. “He’s never had anything attached to him while he’s working."

Sue Trautman and Chase

When bedbugs were detected at the site , staff and residents quickly learned how to spot, identify and eradicate the pesky insects. Though they don’t want to be known as the bedbug experts, the site staff developed their own protocol through research and painstaking trial and error. After trying two different exterminators, they found Sleep Tight, an independent canine bedbug detection company. The team comes to the site monthly to clear rooms after treatment and do random inspections. Today’s visit will include a total of 10 resident rooms.

“It was very challenging at the beginning,” says Joanne, the site administrator. “We’ve normalized it now.”

Despite the stigma attached to bedbugs, their presence doesn’t imply a lack of care or hygiene or room cleanliness. Like mosquitoes, bedbugs are attracted to carbon dioxide and body heat. They are found everywhere from five-star hotels to libraries and city buses. But unlike mosquitoes, bedbugs don’t spread diseases.

Sue, who owns Sleep Tight, and her team have more than six years of experience. A third of her business comes from continuing care facilities. Her dogs are trained to passive alert: they sit down in front of the source if they catch the odour of a live bedbug and are rewarded with a toy. The dogs are trained to identify only live bedbugs, and an alert must be confirmed with a visual inspection. The site staff have also been trained to look for bugs, eggs and other evidence. 

The problem has been  eradicated and the staff are on top of the rest. Soft items can be treated in dryers or the heat tent set up in the basement. Larger items and hard items are laid out in the basement and surrounded by sticky traps to catch any unwanted inhabitants. 

Odours can get trapped, so Sue works with Joan, who pulls out furniture to let odours escape. The dogs work for about 45 minutes at a time before resting and rehydrating. Having a second dog means that clearing is quicker because one dog can rest while the other works. Like their canine counterparts that sniff out bombs and narcotics, the dogs receive rigorous training, and teams are recertified every year to stay at the top of their field.

“The earlier you find them, the easier it is to get rid of them,” says Sue. “You need to know what you’re looking for, and the best way to do that is with a canine inspection that involves an in-depth visual inspection for any canine alerts for live bedbugs.”

Visual inspections, heat treatments and chemical treatments have been incorporated, along with monthly visits from a canine bedbug detection team. They have also provided education and prevention sessions for staff and resident awareness.

Joanne maintains a full-disclosure policy at the site and educates potential tenants about the situation and ongoing treatment and prevention. It is up to residents whether to share the information with their families.

“The key is not being naive about it,” says Joanne. “There are likely a number of facilities out there that don’t know they have them.”

New Resident Regulations

  • All new residents’ belongings are put in holding for 24 hours and inspected before being placed in a room.
  • All furniture and clothing is inspected.
  • Residents are asked to bring a new bed and have to have certified bedbug covers, which are sold at the facility to make it more efficient for residents.
  • The facility moves belongings to the resident’s room following inspection.

Treatment Protocol

  • Residents are notified 24 hours before their room will be treated.
  • Treatment takes about five hours; residents must be out of their rooms for the duration.
  • The rooms on both sides, above and below are also treated.
  • Residents’ personal items (clothing, shoes, etc.) are separated, laundered and heat-treated.
  • There are dryers and a heat tent in the basement, as well as an area for visual inspection of anything that cannot be heat-treated.
  • Items assessed as high risk (beds, furniture) may be removed from the building and discarded.
  • Soft goods are treated in the heat tent or dryers. Anything that cannot fit in the heat tent is laid out in the basement and surrounded with sticky traps.
  • All items are visually inspected before anything is returned to a room.

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