New Kensington seniors struggle with bedbugs
Shirley DeBerry sits on an outdoor lounge chair in her New Kensington apartment, which is stripped of drapes, pillow cases, clothes and sheets.
She won't sit on the couch in the living room, where last week a bevy of bedbugs gathered, infesting the apartment.
All of her clothes are tied up in large, plastic bags, and she's armed with a can of bedbug spray.
The Ridge Avenue Senior Housing resident has been on alert since bedbugs were found in October in three apartments in the complex.
“It's pitiful, it really is,” DeBerry said of her current living situation.
Her apartment was treated for bedbugs last week, but DeBerry said Wednesday that she is still getting bitten.
Two other apartments in the building were also treated.
Bedbugs are small, wingless insects that feed on human blood. They often hide in cracks in the furniture, floors and walls and can be difficult to eliminate.
Across the hall from DeBerry on the third floor of her building, Norma Drupieski, 79, is taking preventative measures.
She wants the apartment complex owners, NDC Real Estate Management, to treat the whole building.
“The bugs are crawling down the hall,” Drupieski said. “This is bad.”
NDC Real Estate declined to comment.
Drupieski said that NDC had a meeting with the residents and Terminix three weeks ago. The pest control company reassured the residents there was nothing to worry about and they brought in dogs to check each apartment.
Despite Terminix coming again this week to check her apartment, DeBerry said she found three more bites after putting on clothing that had been sitting in a dresser. She believes the bedbugs have moved from her living room to her bedroom.
DeBerry said she was told by NDC management that there will not be another inspection or treatment for her apartment.
“It is terrible here,” she said. “We need so much help.”
Drupieski said she called the health department and New Kensington officials about the tenants' bedbug problem, but did not receive any assistance.
New Kensington City Clerk Dennis F. Scarpiniti said that there is no ordinance about controlling bedbugs, or what property owners need to do to contain them.
“Unless it became something that was everywhere, we wouldn't get involved,” he said. “It's up to individual owners.”
Pennsylvania Health Department spokesman Tom Hostetter said that the state health department does not track or investigate bedbug problems. They usually refer any calls they get to local municipal authorities, who they say are generally the ones who handle it.
“Although they are thoroughly unpleasant and a health nuisance, they are not known at this time to cause any infection or health risk,” he said. “They don't pass on disease.”
That is little comfort to residents like Drupieski, who have to upend their apartments to contend with the pests.
“My fear is, ... do the whole building,” she said. “They don't want to spend the money. We're suffering.”
Drupieski said that even without evidence of the bedbugs in her apartment, she wants it treated. She said she would pay for it, but the exterminator won't come without the building owner's approval.
“I'll pay for it, I don't care,” Drupieski said. “I'm just sick about this.”
Kate Wilcox is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.