CAPSLO clients afflicted with staph infections
July 23, 2013
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
The Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo ignored a bed bug infestation at the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter for at least three weeks, while numerous people accessing homeless services were bitten by the staph promoting insects.
CAPSLO officials repeatedly claimed they did not learn of the bed bug problem until July 8 and that the insects did not pose significant health risks. However, in June, CAPSLO homeless services staff quarantined a man who contracted MRSA, a severe staphylococcus infection, from bed bug bites inside the shelter.
Since then, bed bugs have bitten at least 15 more CAPSLO clients, spread to the Prado Day Center and caused another homeless man to contract MRSA.
In mid-June, bed bugs bit Joe Olinde, an Army veteran and longtime San Luis Obispo resident staying in the shelter at the time. The bites covered his arms and became infected.
On June 20, Olinde saw a doctor at Community Health Centers who told him he had contracted MRSA from the bites.
MRSA is a strain of the staphylococcus bacterium that is resistant to many forms of antibiotics. It creates difficult to treat staph infections, more commonly occurring in people who have opened wounds or weakened immune systems.
After his doctor appointment, Olinde returned to the shelter and told a CAPSLO staffer and a volunteer that he had infected bed bug bites. Olinde said he also told Prado Day Center Manager Shawn Ison, who in turn sent him back to the doctor to determine whether or not CAPSLO should quarantine him.
When Olinde returned with a doctor note saying he should not come in contact with other people, Ison arranged to have Olinde quarantined in a San Luis Obispo motel, Olinde said.
Olinde stayed in a room booked by CAPSLO for three nights in late June. He then returned to the shelter for one night and again was bitten, this time on his shoulder blade. Olinde also suffered a couple of bites on his right leg.
Following Olinde’s bed bug bout, the critters continued to bite clients at the Maxine Lewis Shelter. Just prior to the closing of the shelter on July 8, one man suffered bites on his stomach and received treatment for scabies.
After CAPSLO closed the shelter, Homeless Services Director Dee Torres told the San Luis Obispo Tribune that her staff first discovered the bed bugs on July 8, the day the shelter closed. Torres did not respond when later asked by CalCoastNews both in person and by email when CAPSLO first learned of the bed bug problem.
During the closure, CAPSLO did not use the standard protocol of extreme heat treatment to exterminate the bed bugs. Homeless services staff also transported the shelter bedding to the Prado Day Center and washed in it the washing machine.
Most clients typically spending the night at the shelter slept at the day center during the closure.
Since the bedding arrived, bed bugs have bitten several clients at the day center. One woman who only uses CAPSLO’s daytime services suffered bites all over her neck, arms and legs from the bugs at the day center. She currently cannot visit her kids because she risks infecting them.
Sources estimate that since the outbreak at the shelter, bed bugs have bitten between 15 and 50 homeless individuals in San Luis Obipso.
Several of the homeless initially confused their bed bug bites with mosquito bites. The bites can cause severe itchiness. However, when scratched, they often infect and balloon, creating red abscesses, which are collections of pus. The bed bug bites also leave scars, which currently cover the arms and legs of several CAPSLO clients.
Some shelter and day center clients, though, fear telling CAPSLO staff that they have bites because they are concerned staff may revoke the services of people who speak up about the bed bugs.
Clients also fear bringing the problem to the media. After CalCoastNews reported last month that shelter manager Della Wagner denied Jeff Stone, a homeless man, entrance to the shelter because he brought a service dog, Torres accused Stone of lying and threatened to cut off his services. Torres, too, harassed former CAPSLO client Cliff Anderson after CalCoastNews reported that another nonprofit, Family Ties, had kept more of Anderson’s money than legally allowed, Anderson said.
Other homeless clients have said they do not approach CAPSLO staff to inform them about their bed bug bites because some staff members do not care about their complaints.
On the evening of July 12, CAPSLO reopened the Maxine Lewis Shelter. That night, a few clients complained that the shelter still had bed bugs. One staff member responded that she did not care and instructed those complaining to go to sleep, shelter sources said.
Over that night, bed bugs bit Stone all over his right arm and on his stomach.
Still, CAPSLO kept the shelter open the following night. On July 13, several clients again found bugs in their beds. One client even delivered a bag full of bed bugs to a staff member.
Late that evening, CAPSLO responded to the bed bug problem by kicking 10 clients out of the shelter shortly before 9 p.m. Some of those told to leave were already in bed. None of the clients booted received substitute shelter or transportation.
Stone, one of the 10 booted from the shelter on the night of July 13, slept on a hill.
Over the following week, Stone’s bites became infected and ballooned. He checked himself into the emergency room on July 19, where a doctor drained and tested his abscesses. Like Olinde, Stone contracted MRSA from the bites.
Stone continues to have pain in his arm, and the MRSA has caused his elbow to swell. The San Luis Obispo native is currently without shelter because he has completed his initial 30 days and has chosen not to participate in case management.
Once clients have spent 30 day in the Maxine Lewis Shelter, CAPSLO requires them to turn over 50 to 70 percent of their income to CAPSLO or Family Ties to guarantee a bed.
Though Stone spent fewer than 30 days in the Maxine Lewis Shelter, CAPSLO counted his nights spent at Prado against his initial 30 days.
Olinde, who has found temporary housing, continues to use the bed bug-infested Prado Day Center for daytime services. The bed bugs have now moved into Olinde’s temporary home, which, too, requires fumigation.
On July 14, CAPSLO again closed the shelter, this time tenting it for fumigation. The shelter may reopen again as soon as Wednesday.
Sources say CAPSLO staff has already discussed plans to fumigate the day center.