Bedbugs have apparently spread from a call center operated by the Kern County Department of Human Services to the homes of the department’s employees.
Two of those employees have filed claims against the county, asking for assistance in paying for treatments, which can cost thousands of dollars.
County employees say four people total have reported home infestations.
While county officials have said the Wilson Road call center is not and has never been “infested” with bedbugs, employees say they have had to throw out furniture, rip out carpets and sleep on cots as a result of outbreaks of the pests at their homes.
“This has been so frustrating and nasty,” Helen Lara, who works at the call center, wrote in her claim. “My home is not my home right now.”
She added in the claim that she had been constantly cleaning, washing and spraying after discovering the infestation and that she had been getting "no sleep."
The claim, which was filed July 3, says Lara's daughter’s bed and blankets have been thrown out, as well as her own bed, and the living room carpet has been removed.
While downplaying the bedbug threat at the building, which is called the Kinship Center, the county has taken steps to ease the financial burden for employees affected by bedbugs.
“It’s heartbreaking because I know the treatment monetarily is an issue,” Human Services Director Dena Murphy said at a supervisors meeting on July 30.
County Counsel Margo Raison said her office would review each claim to potentially pay the costs of treatment.
But as the county reviews the claims, some county employees have been unable to clear their homes of the insects.
Rosario Romero, a supervisor at Kinship, also filed a claim with the county saying she found bedbugs in her home on July 4.
“I was woken up by my children in the middle of the night and they found them crawling on my pillow, on my body, on my mattress. At that moment, I immediately wrapped up my sheets, my pillows, everything, threw it away,” she told the Board of Supervisors at a meeting on July 29. “I ended up sleeping on the couch from that day forward, me and my children.”
Reached by phone on July 30, Romero said that although she has sprayed her house with chemicals from Home Depot, she has not had her home professionally treated because she cannot afford the $2,950 price Dewey Pest Control quoted her.
“It’s a shame, it’s awful,” she said. “It’s something that we don’t think about, and we shouldn’t have to incur this bill.”
County officials have said bedbugs have been reported six times at the Kinship Center since June, with Dewey Pest Control completing the final treatment for the insects on July 26.
Human Services Deputy Director Cindy Uetz said on July 26 the department believed the issue had been contained with the treatments.
Murphy, the department’s director, said on July 30 that Human Services remained relatively insect-free.
“I’d like to keep this context in perspective. In 2019, there have been six: one, two, three, four, five, six bedbugs at the Kinship Center,” she said. “We have not had nor do we have an infestation of pests at human services.”