Homeless man sues CAPSLO over bed bug infestation

October 24, 2013
Jeff Stone and dog Boomer

Jeff Stone and dog Boomer

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

A homeless man filed suit Tuesday against two San Luis Obispo nonprofits for illnesses he suffered following a bed bug infestation at a homeless shelter the organizations own and operate.

Bed bugs bit Jeff Stone during his July stay in the Maxine Lewis Memorial Homeless Shelter in San Luis Obispo. The bites became infected with the drug-resistant bacterium Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Stone is suing both Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO), which operates the Maxine Lewis shelter, and the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo (HASLO), which owns the property in San Luis Obispo Superior Court. HASLO rents the shelter to CAPSLO for $1 a year.

“These bites, and the wounds they caused, are the direct result of intentional, willful and wanton conduct,” Stone states in the lawsuit.

Stone alleges that on the evening of July 12, several occupants of the shelter notified CAPSLO staff that they found bed bugs in their beds, but shelter workers ignored the problem. Later that night, bed bugs bit Stone on his stomach and forearm.

The bites became red and swollen, and a week later, Stone checked himself into the emergency room at French Hospital. A lab test on an abscess on Stone’s right forearm determined that he had contracted MRSA.

After notifying CAPSLO that he had contracted MRSA, nonprofit staff kicked Stone out of homeless services for the duration of his infection and did not provide him alternative housing, Stone states in the lawsuit.

A month prior to Stone’s bites, another homeless man, Joe Olinde, contracted MRSA from bed bugs bites that also occurred in the shelter. CAPSLO quarantined Olinde in a San Luis Obispo motel for three nights in late June, but did not close the shelter.

The critters continued to bite more homeless people, prompting CASPLO to close the shelter on July 8. Even though CAPSLO had already quarantined Olinde, Homeless Services Director Dee Torres told the San Luis Obispo Tribune that the nonprofit first learned of the bed bug problem on July 8.

During the shelter closure, CAPSLO did not use the standard protocol of extreme heat treatment. It reopened the shelter on July 12, and bed bugs bit Stone that night.

CAPSLO since closed the shelter twice more to eradicate bed bugs. It used heat treatment each time.

Bed bugs bit a total of at least 15 CAPSLO clients since the summer infestation. Some of the bites occurred at the Prado Day Center after CAPSLO staff brought shelter bedding there for cleaning.

Last month, Stone demanded a settlement from CAPSLO for his MRSA infected bites, as well as for the nonprofit refusing him a bed at the shelter when he arrived with a serviced dog.

CAPSLO Chief Operating Officer Jim Famaletter responded to Stone’s demand with a letter denying the settlement and stating that bed bugs do not transmit disease.

“We had been in contact with the County Public Health Department during the time of the shelter treatment and received information from them that there is no documented evidence that bed bugs transmit communicable diseases, Staphalococcus aureus or otherwise,” Famalette wrote. “We also researched information through the Center for Disease Control on this subject.”

In 2011, the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases published a letter to the editor by a Canadian doctor and a research professor who conducted a study on hospital patients with bed bugs in an impoverished area of Vancouver.

Medical doctor Marc Romney and researcher Christopher Lowe tested five bed bugs that patients brought into the hospital. Three of the bugs tested positive for MRSA, while the other two tested positive for the drug resistant bacterium known as VRE, Romney and Lower wrote in the CDC journal letter.

In his lawsuit, Stone is asking for a total judgment of $500,350, of which $250,000 is for punitive damages. Stone is also asking the court to order CAPSLO to partner with San Luis Obispo County to create an independent homeless services ombudsman position.

The ombudsman would serve CAPSLO homeless services clients “through complaint investigation, resolution and advocacy for improvement in services and care through a toll-free hotline and grievance form.”

Stone previously sued Imperial County over a wrongful eviction. The suit ended in a settlement.

 


35 Comments

  1. SandyK says:

    It seems obvious that the bed bugs would have their babies in the spring…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. UncleCharlie says:

    This article does an excellent job of garnering sympathy for CAPSLO by high lighting the type of people they deal with daily.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 22 Thumb down 13

  3. SLOBIRD says:

    “CAPSLO quarantined Olinde in a San Luis Obispo motel for three nights in late June” Really, you put him in a motel with this issue so the bed bugs would spread. Is CAPSLO legally required to notify the motel why this client was given this housing and that he could possibly have bed bugs. What a solution when you know and aware of this issue to expose the community. Nice!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 29 Thumb down 10

    • OnTheOtherHand says:

      Consider the possibility that the information in this article could be either incomplete, inaccurate or both. IF that information is “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” I would agree that this is a big problem. However, given other inaccuracies, errors and biases I have seen in Friedman’s reporting, I doubt that this presentation qualifies.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 25 Thumb down 10

      • SLOBIRD says:

        OTOH: So, are you saying that CAPSLO is lying about putting clients in motels or are you saying Mr. Stone is the liar in this case. Not sure what you or who you are calling out here…

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 13

  4. freshair says:

    You go, Jeff.

    Sorry for your mistreatme​nt at the Maxine. Capslo really shouldn’t be in the business of running a night shelter, nor taking money from Social Security recipients and endlessly promising more permanent housing.

    May justice prevail and hand the city of SLO with an ombudsman to babysit. Enough is enough.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 18 Thumb down 23

  5. OnTheOtherHand says:

    I don’t know the real facts of the case but I can tell that this article was written with a bias.

    “During the shelter closure, CAPSLO did not use the standard protocol of extreme heat treatment.”

    This sounds like it was written by Mr. Stone’s attorney as one of his arguments for a trial. I am not an expert on bedbugs but do know a bit about insect treatments. There isn’t really a single “standard protocol” for most treatments. There are several treatment possibilities and the choice of which to use in a given case depends upon several factors such as the stage of insect development, the location and specific situation of the infestation, cost of treatment options, availability/urgency of a specific treatment and possibly other factors too.

    If CAPSLO has an in-house pest control expert, they may have made the choice on their own. If not, they probably relied on the recommendations of whatever pest control company they contacted to do the work. Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to eradicate even for the experts. I can’t imagine that a large old structure like the homeless shelter makes it any easier. I was not surprised when they had to make extra treatments. My biggest surprise is that they had gone as long as they had without a bedbug problem given the nature of some of their “clientele.”

    If Mr. Friedman is writing this as an advocate for Mr. Stone — or as a PR guy for his attorney — he should say so up front and stop pretending that this is journalism.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 44 Thumb down 12

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