Health Department would add bed bug assistance to existing program

In Webster County, there are infestations requiring some aid, Prescott says

Webster County may be able to provide help for places with a creepy crawly problem without adding to the budget this year.

The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved adding “infestation assistance” to the general assistance budget, after a request from Webster County Health Department Director Kari Prescott to help combat bed bugs in the region.

“We have had two community stakeholder meetings to discuss the bed bug infestation that’s happening with some landlords, some tenants, some rental property,” Prescott said. “We reached out to our health care providers, the emergency room, UnityPoint, Berryhill, and we were finding a common theme in our community that a bed bug infestation, some severe, some not as severe, was affecting multiple entities.”

Prescott didn’t seek any new funding. Ever since the Health Department took over management of the general assistance fund, they have not used the $58,000 that was set aside every year, she said.

Instead, she just wanted bed bug management to be added to the list general assistance can be used for.

“We’re not asking to add money to the budget right now,” she said. “We want to add one more service to the addendum that we set every year for the general assistance. I’d like it to be effective in January.”

“So you’re going to bring that back in January?” Supervisor Mark Campbell said.

“I can,” said Prescott.

The county’s new fiscal year doesn’t begin until July 1.

General assistance is used to pay expenses for those in need, such as rent, transportation, a funeral for an indigent person, and in some cases gap-filling medical help, Prescott said.

“The primary ones are rental assistance, some transportation, some medical,” she said. “If all other places are exhausted, we have the opportunity to provide people the help they need, if they are truly in need.”

The Health Department is looking at pest control providers to partner with, she said, and will follow through to ensure they’re getting good results.

Prescott said direct action likely won’t be needed very often, only in the most severe infestations. The primary outcome from the meetings was the need for education and messaging.

“We’re going to provide a standardized education and media campaign, which we’re going to share with our landlords’ association, about how to look for bed bugs, how to make sure it is bed bugs and not another type of infestation, and then education on how to eradicate the situation,” she said.

“We have a health education section within our department. We can do all the printing of pamphlets within the Health Department side.

“Contrary to some myths, it’s not a poor person’s problem. Bed bugs are everywhere. You can go to the best hotel and have bedbugs.”

About 35 people attended the first meeting, she added.

The confidential bed bug hotline for Webster County is up and running now at 515-227-7150.

Anyone can call in to report issues with bed bugs, and get information on how to deal with it, from the health department, she said.