Are Bed Bugs a Problem in Nursing Homes?

Unfortunately, nursing home abuse and caregiver neglect are widespread problems in Maryland and throughout the United States.  While exact statistics pertaining to elder abuse are unknown due to widespread under-reporting, the CDC estimates that at least one in 10 older adults are victimized each year.  In most cases, nursing home abuse and neglect involve issues like preventable falls, bed sores, and financial exploitation.  However, negligent property maintenance can indirectly harm the residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities if unsanitary living conditions allow bed bug infestations to develop.  In this article, our bed bug litigation attorneys will explore how nursing homes become liable for injuries to residents.

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Bed bugs are not choosy about housing, and will happily take up residence anywhere they can find consistent access to nocturnal blood meals.  However, as we’ve discussed in many of our previous articles, apartment buildings are exceptionally vulnerable due to their large concentrations of residents.  Bed bugs feed exclusively on blood, and the more food sources (i.e. human bodies) they can readily access, the longer the population will be sustained.  As long as bed bugs have a stable source of sustenance, they have no biological impetus to leave the site of the infestation.

You can immediately see how this same problem translates to nursing homes and other care facilities for the elderly.  Much like condominiums, apartment buildings, or apartment complexes, nursing homes and assisted living facilities house numerous occupants in close quarters.  When bed bugs invade a nursing home setting, they can rapidly spread from resident to resident and room to room as their comfortable, well-fed population breeds and expands.

Of course, nursing homes should absolutely never permit a bed bug infestation to develop in the first place.  This isn’t just common sense – it’s a legal obligation.  Nursing homes are bound to state and federal laws establishing clear-cut standards of care, safety, and sanitation.

To provide just one example, the Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA) sets forth a residents’ “Bill of Rights,” which includes, among other legal protections, “the right to freedom from abuse, mistreatment, and neglect,” as well as “the right to accommodation of medical, physical, psychological, and social needs.”  If a nursing home ignores or departs from these guidelines, resulting in injury or wrongful death to a resident, then the plaintiff (or the decedent’s surviving loved ones) could potentially file a lawsuit to recover damages (e.g. medical bills).

Permitting a bed bug infestation to occur represents a gross deviation from the federal care standards clearly established by the NHRA, among other state and federal laws.  If a nursing home or assisted living facility does become aware that an infestation is developing, the nursing home should take prompt measures to adequately address the infestation – namely, hiring a licensed and certified pest control company.

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Are Nursing Homes Liable for Bed Bug Injuries to Residents?

Nursing homes have a “duty of care” to their residents, much like doctors and other healthcare professionals have a “duty of care” to their patients.  By signing a contract and accepting payment from residents, nursing homes (and assisted living facilities) agree to take all reasonable steps to safeguard residents from experiencing harm.

Depending on the pertinent municipal code, landlords are not always 100% responsible for exterminating bed bugs inside apartment buildings.  However, unlike the tenants of private residences, nursing home residents are completely dependent on facility management and personnel for their everyday care and protection.  That is why they are housed there in the first place.

For example, many nursing home residents suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, mobility issues, or other medical conditions which render them physically incapable of taking their own pest control measures.  (Even if they could, home remedies are seldom if ever effective, as our article cautioning against DIY bed bug treatments explains.)  Speaking frankly, it is completely outrageous to expect senior citizens with severe health problems to manage their own bed bug infestations – particularly when they are already paying the nursing home to attend to their basic health needs.

This brings up another relevant point: older adults’ increased susceptibility to injury and illness, including those caused or transmitted by bed bug bites.  Medical studies have shown that bed bugs can transmit serious and even fatal diseases such as hepatitis B and Chagas Disease.  Even healthy young adults can be physically debilitated by these types of medical complications.  Because elderly persons’ immune systems are compromised by advanced age, this demographic is at an increased risk of being seriously harmed or even killed.

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All this is to say nothing of additional property damage, which can be financially costly.  The loss of irreplaceable antiques or sentimental objects, which help nursing home residents feel connected to their loved ones at home, can be emotionally devastating.

If your parent or grandparent was bitten by bed bugs at his or her nursing home or assisted living facility, your family may be entitled to compensation from the nursing home which negligently permitted the infestation to occur.  To set up a free, completely confidential legal consultation, call the law offices of Whitney, LLP right away at (410) 583-8000.


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