Bed bugs in ambulances, cockroaches in a hospital: the unexpected challenges for health care

They are an unexpected and unpleasant expense for our province's already cash strapped medical system: cockroaches in an Ottawa hospital, bed bugs in our ambulances and the time consuming efforts to eliminate them.The Queensway-Carleton had to seal off one of its rooms for several days, after a patient brought in cockroaches on a wheelchair. 

And de-contaminations are done regularly on Ottawa ambulances and paramedic crews.  The de-contamination room at Ottawa's Paramedic Headquarters was built to deal primarily with pathogensbut there's another kind of bug that paramedics are consistently confronting here in Ottawa now: bed bugs.

“For bed bugs, paramedics come here (to the de-contamination room) two to three times a week,” explains Marc-Antoine Deschamps with the Ottawa Paramedics Services, “but just this week I think we're up to five.”

Shawn Landriault is an equipment supply technician whose job is to de-contaminate the ambulances because of bed bugs.

“You do think about them,” explains Landriault, “but like I said, if you follow the protocol, you shouldn't be bringing anything home.”

It's a lengthy protocol to de-contaminate both the crews and the vehicles to make sure any bed bugs picked up in one place don't end up anywhere else.

“These little bugs can spread quickly,” explains Deschamps, “so we don't want to take a risk that they might go into another patient's home or the staff themselves, that they may take them home.”

In early August, a patient transported cockroaches from their home to the Queensway-Carleton hospital on a wheelchair.

The hospital says it was an isolated incident and that the room was professionally treated. In a statement, it said,

"This is first incident of its kind in the last 20 years and likely longer.  There have been no bugs seen in the last week, so we are optimistic the issue has passed." 

The hospital says the room that the patient had been in was sealed for about five days to deal with the cockroaches. The Queensway-Carleton has been at capacity or over capacity for some time so sealing that room meant some patients had to stay in emergency a little while longer.

A pest control expert says the bugs travel on clothes and it's not uncommon to find them in public venues like hospitals.

“They can be common on a bus, they can be common in a theatre,” says Rob Caron, the branch manager with Orkin Ottawa, “It’s not something I'd be afraid of because we can deal with it quickly.”

And while there's a huge "yuck" factor here what the pest control experts want to stress is that it's nothing to be ashamed of.  The more people talk about the issue, Caron says, the better success we'll have controlling it.