Homeless man sues CAPSLO over bed bug infestation
October 24, 2013
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.