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Spend time treating patients, not pests

May 1, 2007
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Integrated pest management programs are essential for long-term success

Pests such as insects and rats are more than just an annoyance—they're a threat. They can carry diseases that can aggravate your patients' health, jeopardize food safety, and raise concerns with health inspectors. To wage the battle against pests—and win the war—healthcare facilities across the nation rely on integrated pest management (IPM), an environmentally conscious approach that incorporates nonchemical treatment methods.

Unlike traditional pest control methods, which rely mainly on regular and extensive use of pesticides to create a “pest barrier,” IPM is a holistic approach that emphasizes understanding the reasons that pests enter healthcare facilities. IPM programs strive to eliminate food, water, and shelter sources, elements necessary for pests' survival, through preventive and nonchemical methods such as sanitation. In healthcare terms, IPM considers the cause of the pest problem, not just the symptoms, the pests themselves. Not only does this approach offer a long-term solution to pest prevention, but the reduction of chemical use offers a better solution for patients, employees, and visitors.

Seven Steps

IPM programs follow an ongoing series of seven steps: inspection, preventive action, identification, analysis, treatment selection, monitoring, and documentation. Let's take a look at each step and how you can work with your pest management professional to implement a true IPM program in your facility.

Inspection.The first step in any IPM program is inspection. Where might pests live in your facility? How do they get in?

Conduct a thorough inspection—top to bottom—of your facility to look for conditions conducive to harboring pests. Pay special attention to pest “hot spots,” areas that offer moisture, food, shelter, and optimal temperatures for pests, including the following:

  • Cafeterias and kitchens. Cockroaches, ants, and rats enjoy everything people eat—and more. In addition to fresh food, grease runoff and food debris make food service areas an open lunchroom for pests.

  • Employee break areas and locker rooms. Employees may unknowingly carry “hitchhiking” pests like cockroaches inside the building on their coats, shoes, and personal items. If pests such as fruit flies find open snacks in lockers, they can live comfortably and relatively undetected in their dark hiding spot.

  • Laundry facilities. Warmth, moisture, and food residue on linens entice rodents and cockroaches into laundry facilities, and they often hide behind dryers and in linen storage areas.

  • Outdoor waste areas. Waste areas attract pests such as wasps and rodents because they offer numerous food and harborage sources. Since doors to waste areas open and close throughout the day, pests can easily gain access to the facility.

Preventive action.Following the initial inspection, address any flaws or vulnerabilities, including pest entry points (openings in the exterior, doors that don't seal, etc.) and areas that provide pests easy access to food and water. During this step, sanitation and facility maintenance are key and will help discourage pests from infesting your facility. In each of the pest hot spots, consider these preventive tips:

  • Cafeterias and kitchens. Clean all surfaces regularly and use an organic cleaner in drains to reduce fly breeding areas. Store food in tightly sealed containers and rotate all products on a first in, first out (FIFO) schedule.

  • Employee break areas and locker rooms. Ask employees to dispose of any food in tightly sealed trash cans and to regularly clean their lockers.

  • Laundry facilities. Thoroughly clean under and behind washers and dryers. Fix leaks immediately to prevent any bacterial growth that will attract pests.

  • Outdoor waste areas. Place trash containers as far from the building as possible, and ask your waste management company to clean and rotate trash containers frequently. Check the air flow in your building (air should flow out, not in) to help discourage flies from entering. Make sure all doors close properly and that all windows have screens.

Educating employees on IPM practices will help in your effort to keep your building pest-free. After all, what good is a properly sealed door if employees prop it open all day?

Identification.Different species of the same pest have unique behaviors. Work with a trained professional to correctly identify the pest and its developmental stages. If possible, save a sample of the problem pest and show it to your specialist.

Analysis.During the analysis stage, work with your pest management professional to play 20 questions: How did the pest enter the building? Does it have access to food or water sources? Is this an isolated incident or a larger problem? The answers to all of these questions will help determine the best treatment options and help curtail future problems.

Treatment selection.In healthcare facilities, the treatment selection process is one of the most important steps in IPM. An IPM-trained professional will help you carefully select a treatment to control the targeted pest, without negatively affecting people or the healthcare environment. IPM programs prefer the use of nonchemical treatments before considering chemical treatments. Use a vacuum (if applicable) to reduce pests until you identify the proper treatment method.