Craven County commissioners will look into a local ordinance to deal with the issue of bedbugs in adult care facilities after their questions came up short during a Monday morning presentation by state health officials.
“I was amazed,” said Commissioners Chairman Tom Marks afterwards. “They have no authority.”
He and several board members expressed surprise that no rules are in place to warn the public that a bedbug problem exists in facilities.
State officials admitted they have no real regulatory or enforcement authority to force such facilities to rid themselves of the bugs.
State officials did concede that at least one local adult facility has no record of bed bugs.
The commissioners first heard about the bed bug reports in several local facilities during a report from the volunteer Craven County Adult Care Advisory Committee late last month.
They invited state Division of Health Service Regulation Commissioners officials to shed light on what was being done.
But, as several commissioners said afterward, the agency seems to lack any real enforcement power to make sure the problems are addressed.
The adult care committee had reported that bed bugs had been a local problem for several years.
DHS Construction Section Chief Steve Lewis told commissioners the bugs are a statewide problem and described the local problem as “typical.”
The board directed county attorney Jimmie Hicks to look into an ordinance about regulating the adult care homes.
Marks said the board would meet after they get a legal opinion to discuss their options.
“I guess it would be something that would specify that if they have a bedbug problem, that they prove to us that they are treating it,” he said after the meeting. “That is the main thing and after a specified period of time that the bedbugs will be gone.”
Commissioner Jason Jones asked whether the state had the authority to post public signage at facilities, warning that it had an infestation.
He was told the state had no regulations that provided for warnings.
“That is something we cannot require,” said Adult Care Home Licensure Section Chief Megan Lamphere.
Commissioner George Liner said afterwards that providing warnings to the public is one of the results he would like to see if the board can and does impose local rules.
Earlier, he told the state officials “we have had one, possibly two that have had bedbugs since 2015 and we have no relief, no signs that they are doing away.”
He also asked, “Do you all have any authority to make sure that these homes are compliant and have a policy in place?
Lewis said there was no specific state statute that specified bedbugs, only “for general safety and insects and that type of thing.”
Commissioner Steve Tyson questioned whether the state could close a facility for not ridding itself of bedbugs.
“Closing a facility would be very difficult,” said Lewis. “It would be a last resort.”
Commissioners Scott Dacey asked if facilities in this area follow the policies to combat bedbugs.
“I cannot tell you that,” said Lewis. “We do not look specifically for bedbugs.”
After the Monday session, Marks repeated his concerns expressed during the meeting that bed bugs moving about in facilities could pick up and transmit disease to residence, most of whom are elderly.
“Lying in bed they can get rashes and get infections,” he said.
Lewis had told the board earlier that the source of food for bed bugs is human blood.
Marks said another problem that has arisen is that come members of the advisory committee “are afraid to go in those facilities.”
He said later that several committee members have resigned over the issue.
Lewis said that facilities with a bedbug problem are responsible for hiring a professional exterminator to address the problem. He said that process can take upwards of six months.
Lewis told the board that bedbugs can go inactive as far as feeding on human blood for long periods.
He said they were also very difficult to eradicate, noting a case in which bedbug treatments began at a facility in January and appeared gone by June, only to resurface a month later.
Charlie Hall can be reached at 252-635-5667 or 252-259-7585, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieHallNBSJ