Lancaster Group Takes on Bedbug Problem

May 7, 2017 | Spencer Remoquillo

This article describes how the Lancaster-Fairfield Community Action Agency is fighting bed bugs in low-income housing.

LANCASTER - Bedbugs: they're in local schools, restaurants, movie theaters, retail stores and government and civic service buildings. In short, they're everywhere.

It's not just a Lancaster problem or a Columbus problem — it's a national problem.

Some groups looked to the Lancaster-Fairfield Community Action Agency to fulfill a need in the community by combating the problem in low-income households. After much research and contemplation, agency Executive Director Kellie Ailes said they reluctantly accepted the challenge to help rid the area of bedbugs through its heat treatment/spray combo for those who fit the financial criteria.

"Initially there were a number of people in the community becoming very concerned with this issue," Ailes said. "We had elderly residents and some local schools calling us. It didn't seem that any one agency was able to address the issue."

In December, Community Action outfitted a truck with all the necessary equipment, costing about $80,000 and set off to treat the first round of homes. Dave Moore, who operates his pest control business, works with the program on a part-time basis. Ailes estimated the program had helped 22 families so far.

There are many times, Ailes said, that the agency is in a home to help for a different reason and saw an infestation, but there was no way to help them until now.

"I don't know how pervasive the problem is, but I know a number of our community partners have had to close their doors so they could treat. It has become a bigger problem not only in our community but everywhere."

Bedbugs were also found in the Rutherford House which prompted the agency to install a "heat closet" about five years ago to kill off any bedbugs before items are moved in or if bugs are spotted. In the main building of the agency along East Main Street, Ailes said they are also "systematically removing the carpeting and replacing all of the upholstered furniture with hard surface chairs," to cut down on areas for the bugs to hide.

"You can have a major infestation in a week," Ailes explained. "They're small. They hide. It's hard to detect the problem sometimes."

For low-income residents, Ailes said they are spending their already limited resources using sub-par spray treatments that never resolved the problem. The agency's resources are also limited, so they're serving those who are in the most need first. The program also offers a chance to educate the public on how to avoid bedbugs in the future.

"Some of them are just helplessly living with this problem," she said, adding that school-age children are often humiliated and stigmatized because they're living with the problem. Lancaster City Schools has reported spotting some bed bugs in the schools but assured parents through a newsletter that there has never been an infestation. Superintendent Steve Wigton acknowledged the number of bed bugs found at the high school, which is likely because it has the highest enrollment, has increased over the academic year.

The district also brings in professionally trained bedbug-sniffing dogs to inspect classrooms and buildings.

"Bed bugs are brought into the school as a result of bugs 'hitchhiking' a ride on people or their belongings," according to the district's newsletter. "In the vast majority of incidents, a single bed bug is found. If the bug is found on an item carried by a student, such as a book bag, the item is placed into a 'hot box' designed to kill bed bugs."

The school also informs the child's parents and provides them with information about the community action agency's program.

For more information on the community action's bedbug program eligibility requirements, call 740-653-4146. Additional information about bedbug prevention and treatment can be found at CentralOhioBedBugs.org.

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