Residents of High Rise for Seniors in Harrisburg Say it's Infested with Bed Bugs

PennLive.com
Friday, July 27, 2012

Beressa Mayo extended her right forearm, pointing to the small, indelible dark marks up and down her arm.

The 75-year-old said they are bite marks from the bedbugs infesting her Harrisburg apartment.

"This was a nice place. I like it here. We enjoy one another," Mayo said. "But [those] things have been eating me up."

Mayo lives at Presbyterian Apartments Inc., a 23-story senior-living facility at 322 N. Second St. in downtown Harrisburg.
Mayo and other highrise residents said that bedbugs have been a problem for at least a year and that the owners have done little to exterminate the pests.

The building's owner, Dillsburg-based nonprofit Presbyterian Senior Living, claims that the apartments are routinely treated for insects and that when bedbugs are reported, the situation is remedied immediately.

At Presbyterian Apartments, when a bedbug problem is reported, at minimum, three treatments three weeks apart are conducted, said Steve Knaub, the facility's property manager.

"Every unit receives four [standard pest control] treatments per year. We don't hesitate to provide treatment for bedbugs," Knaub said. "The comfort and well-being of our residents remains our top priority."

Presbyterian Apartments, which opened in 1967, has 165 apartments. Seniors 62 and older are eligible to live in the apartments.

Bedbugs, which are small rust-colored insects that feed on human blood, are not a new problem in Harrisburg.

Several years ago, they forced the closure of Tara Station, a bar on South Fourth Street that was in a building that had to be fumigated after bedbugs infested the apartments in the upper floors. Though the problem was treated, the bar closed.

The insects also were reported at Camp Curtin School during the past school year.

Bedbugs usually are transported into buildings via luggage, bedding and clothing.

Even though bedbugs multiply and spread quickly, the Pennsylvania Department of Health doesn't intervene when they are reported in buildings because they are not known to carry diseases, said Thomas Hostetter, a department spokesman.

It's up to municipalities to track and oversee the remediation of bedbugs, Hostetter said.

Harrisburg's Bureau of Codes will step in if the city receives documented bedbug complaints, said Robert Philbin, spokesman for Mayor Linda Thompson.

A codes officer will issue a series of warnings and sanctions. And if a building owner doesn't remediate the problem, the city will placard it as a building unfit for human habitation and shut it down, Philbin said.

While Philbin said the city has not received any complaints about Presbyterian Apartments, one former resident, Bob Powers, said he plans to contact Harrisburg officials.

Powers said he left his apartment on the 13th floor of the building three months after moving there in January due to the bedbug problem. He said he lost a brand-new $700 couch and a recliner after bedbugs infested his furniture.

Presbyterian Senior Living offered to treat the couch, but Powers said the furniture was ruined and he wants to be reimbursed.

Powers, who is living with his sister in Carlisle until he finds a house, said he hopes the situation is addressed for residents who are on fixed incomes and don't have the means to move out.

"This, to me, is an ongoing problem, and when you come here as a new tenant you should be made aware there is a possibility you may get [bedbugs]," Powers said. "I hope that they can address this problem for these people in this building. Some of the folks are kind of poor souls. They just don't have the means, and I hope they resolve the problem for their sake."

Knaub said Presbyterian Senior Living policy prevented him from commenting on Powers' situation or that of any other resident living in the building.

William Shannon and his wife have been residents for 11 years.

Shannon, 70, said he has not found bedbugs in his apartment, but many of his neighbors have, and one friend had them on his neck and back on Monday.

"There is a problem. [My neighbor] had it on his clothes, and his neck is all tore up and bit up. He reported it this morning," Shannon said.

Mayo, who has lived at the Presbyterian Apartments for more than three years, said bedbugs are in her couch and ruined her bed mattress.

She said she has had bedbugs for about a year and Presbyterian Senior Living has treated her apartment twice, but the bedbugs have not gone away.

"[My mattress] was like new. It looks terrible now," Mayo said. "I like staying here. I like the apartment I'm in. But I have [bedbugs] on my bed and in my closet and on my pillow."