The St. Clair Associated Vocational Enterprises, or SAVE, group homes for developmentally disabled adults have been infested with bed bugs and a pest control company has begun a program to eradicate the insects, the organization’s executive director said.
The bed bug infestation prompted two SAVE employees to resign on Friday.
“We do have bed bugs,” Executive Director Paul Wibbenmeyer said. He said a pest control company inspected the group homes at noon on Nov. 9, the day after he was told there were bed bugs in the homes.
On Tuesday, the company used a “heat” treatment in three of the eight group homes to kill the bugs by heating a room. Since then, three other homes have been treated and the final two are scheduled to be treated on Saturday.
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Wibbenmeyer said SAVE has operated group homes for more than 30 years and this was the first time bed bugs have ever been found in the homes, which are off SAVE Road on a former military base in Freeburg.
Meghan Powers, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services, said in an email Friday that the Office of Inspector General, or OIG, for the agency “was made aware of allegations of neglect” at SAVE and is “looking into the matter.”
Wibbenmeyer declined to comment about the Office of Inspector General’s actions.
Leslie French, who is one of the SAVE employees who resigned Friday, said she called the Office of Inspector General on Nov. 10 and on Monday.
“Our IDHS OIG team, along with the Division of Developmental Disabilities and our Bureau of Accreditation, Licensure and Certification, take any allegations of neglect very seriously and work collaboratively to address concerns of this type,” Powers said.
Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said organizations such as SAVE are not required to report bed bug infestations to the health department.
While pathogens have been found in bed bugs, the bed bug apparently does not transmit diseases to humans.
Illinois Department of Public Health
The health department describes bed bugs as small, brown insects that suck blood from humans.
“While pathogens have been found in bed bugs, the bed bug apparently does not transmit diseases to humans,” the state health department reports on its website.
Wibbenmeyer said none of the residents have been taken to a doctor but a nurse has checked them and given them antihistamines and topical treatments.
Along with Leslie French, the other SAVE employee to resign on Friday is her cousin, Sharon French.
They are upset that the bed bug problem was not addressed when they reported the issue to their immediate supervisor. They said they told their supervisor that residents were suffering from some kind of insect bite in September and in October they told the supervisor that bed bugs were biting the residents.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Leslie French, who is from Swansea.
“We weren’t getting immediate answers from our immediate supervisor so we called” Wibbenmeyer last week, Leslie French said.
Wibbenmeyer declined to comment about the French’s complaint that their supervisor didn’t address the issue of bed bugs in the homes. He said he was not aware of any insect problem until Nov. 8. He also declined to comment about the resignations or how he found out about the issue.
Leslie French said she and her daughter went to an urgent care center on Monday to get treatment for the bites they found on their bodies. She showed a doctor four of the dead bugs packed into a plastic baggie and the doctor confirmed that she and her daughter had bed bug bites. They were advised to take Benadryl.
We weren’t getting immediate answers from our immediate supervisor.
Leslie French, who resigned from SAVE on Friday
Leslie French believes her daughter was bitten on Nov. 10 when she brought her daughter to work because school was closed for the Veterans Day holiday.
Sharon French, who is from Shiloh, found bed bug bites on her chest.
“I threw my shoes away. I threw my clothes away,” she said.
The Frenches said they have become friends with the SAVE residents they assist and it was difficult to decide to leave their jobs. They both started in early 2016 as “direct service” employees who cook for the residents, take them to places like a hair salon and give them their medication.
“This is really hard,” Leslie French said after she turned in her resignation letter Friday.
Wibbenmeyer said SAVE is committed to providing a “safe and secure environment for people who live here.” He added that SAVE is following all of the recommendations made by the pest control company.