Over the last two months, the Kern County Department of Human Services has battled encroaching bedbugs at its call center on Wilson Road in Bakersfield.
Employees have reported bedbugs an estimated six times at that location since June, according to Deputy Chief Cindy Uetz, who added that she believes the problem has receded.
“It is serious,” she said. “It is something that we are responding to seriously, to make sure that if we do have somebody who reports it to us, we do make sure that we respond immediately.”
The department has provided employees of the call center, called the Kinship Center, with plastic bags to stow their belongings, lint rollers and plastic booties to wear in an effort to prevent the bugs from spreading to homes and other places.
On Friday, Dewey Pest Control completed the last round of a series of sprays meant to eradicate the insects from the premises.
Employees were asked to leave by 5 p.m. on Friday, and the offices will need to be aired out over the weekend, according to an email sent to staff.
“There haven’t been any new sightings,” Uetz said. “We’re hoping that this will be the last spraying.”
She noted the amount of bedbugs in the building did not rise to the level of an “infestation.”
Employees of the call center have been frustrated by the experience. The sightings have made many staff members worried that they could bring the insects home with them.
“It’s pretty evident that there has been a problem there and it has been ongoing for a while,” said Veronica Vasquez, president of the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union. “During our last negotiations this was an issue, the bedbugs. It has been ongoing.”
The call center has experienced bedbugs before.
In 2017, sprayings were required after reports of the bugs surfaced.
This time around, Vasquez said one employee noticed a bedbug as early as November of last year, indicating the issue has been around for many months.
“It’s not a seasonal thing,” she added.
Both Supervisor Leticia Perez and Supervisor David Couch visited the call center to talk to employees about their concerns. While on the premises, they donned plastic outfits for protection.
Vasquez said the supervisors’ visit comforted the employees and made them feel heard.
“They finally felt validated, and they appreciated that the supervisors went to Kinship and spoke to them,” she said.
Neither Perez nor Couch responded to a request for comment.
Bedbugs are small, brown insects that feed off human or animal blood. Typically, eradicating the insects from a particular area using chemical treatments can require two to three visits.
No cost estimates were available Friday afternoon for the sprayings at the Kinship Center although Uetz said the sprayings were “quite expensive.”
But with no other option, the price must be paid.
“My interest is making sure we’re taking all the precautions we can,” she said. “So we’re approving all of those treatments at this point.”