How to Handle Pests During Health Care Facility Renovations

By Tim Husen

The health care industry is growing fast as America’s older population ages and younger generations reach record numbers. Hospitals are expanding at a rapid pace to meet the new demand for health care services; however, during this process, it is important to not lose site of important facility programs, including pest management.

A pest management provider can work with the contractor during health care facility renovations or expansion to treat for termites and other insects as the walls and foundations are poured and installed. Photo Credit: Orkin

While renovations bring great changes, the process can often disrupt normal services, pausing normal sanitation schedules, interrupting maintenance routings, and increasing traffic and visitors. One unhealthy side effect can be that pest control services get shelved. However, renovations tend to be when pests pose the largest threat to health care facilities. When outdoor habitats are disrupted for new construction or pest control routines are abandoned during upgrades, it can lead to problems. Mice, rats and other rodents can scurry inside if their outdoor homes are disturbed. Cockroaches and other insects also can take root if moisture seeps into foundations. And termites can run the show if construction debris isn’t discarded properly.

Patients can leave negative reviews or complain to auditors if pests are found, and rightly so. Everyone expects a high level of sanitation and cleanliness at hospitals, doctors’ offices and clinics.

Because pests carry harmful pathogens and the potential to ruin a hospital’s reputation, it’s essential to take a proactive approach to pest control before, during and after renovations. By taking preventive measures and working directly with a pest management professional before a renovation or expansion, facility owners and operators can ensure a patients’ stay is healthy, and also keep on top of a construction timeline and budget.

Phase I: Planning for Pests Before Renovation

Being proactive about a pest management strategy from the start has long-term benefits. Managing pest control issues during construction typically falls on the contractor, who should create an integrated pest management (IPM) program. Effective IPM practices aim to limit pests’ access to the resources they need to survive and reproduce, typically food, warmth, shelter and water.

IPM is most effective when a property is evaluated beforehand to determine which pests already are located around the property, how large their populations are and in which season they are most prevalent. For example, this information could affect a decision to start a construction project in the driest part of the year if mosquitoes and flies are a problem in a particular area. This may prevent entry from swarms of mosquitoes or flies that could occur if the construction started during wet or humid months.

Materials also have the potential to be problems or — when chosen wisely — solutions. When sourcing building materials, choose those that have the potential to deter pests, such as concrete, fiber-cement siding or non-cellulose insulation. Facility owners also need to inspect all incoming materials for signs of pests, as sometimes they hitch a ride onto the construction site with the new materials. Things to look for include droppings, chewed surfaces, or even dead rodents or insects.

A pest management provider can work with the contractor to treat for termites and other insects as walls and foundations are poured and installed. Owners (or hired contractors) will also want to carefully inspect walls and foundations for cracks that rodents and ants could use as an entry point into the structure. Newly emptied rooms can be treated with a growth-regulating product to prevent insect pests from breeding before construction begins. New carpets also can be pre-treated for pests before installation.

Additionally, facility owners and maintenance personnel must be proactive about maintaining a clean and clutter-free construction site from the beginning of a renovation. After all, a single leftover lunch could cause a full-fledged infestation of roaches, ants or flies.

Phase II: Implementing Best Practices During Renovation

During renovations, it’s important to grade a property properly so that water drains away from the foundation. Standing water is particularly attractive to mosquitoes, and moist, disturbed soils can be the perfect hiding grounds for termites. While grading the property, place baits around the perimeter to prevent termites before they find a way inside the facility.

Any new landscaping installed during a renovation should be kept trimmed and placed at least 2 feet away from buildings to reduce rodents’ accessibility to upper levels and building roofs. Pests will be further deterred from entering the property by installing LED lights (as some studies have shown are less attractive to flying insects than traditional lighting).

During renovations, it’s important to revisit the most common methods that pests use to enter the property. For instance, entry doors (loading docks, front or back entrances, garage doors, etc.) should remain closed as much as possible to reduce entry of rodents or pests with wings, like birds and flying insects. Double sliding doors are recommended at major entrances to create an additional barrier. If windows must be left open, they should be properly screened. Any utility openings should also be closed off.

For frequently used entrances, air curtains (which are fans mounted against the doorway) and plastic strips help to prevent pests from getting in and conditioned air from getting out. These are often a good idea to install at loading docks or supply areas. Steel or copper mesh can be used to seal walls so that rodents can’t gnaw through to the building’s wires and electrical systems.

At the end of each workday, it’s important that construction crews cover all building materials to protect against the elements, especially rain. No one wants to find fungus, larvae or full-grown pests hiding in wet building materials.

Phase III: Maintaining Pest Management After Renovation

Even when a renovation is complete, pest management is not. Work with a pest management professional to update an IPM program based on new additions to the hospital or clinic. Certain areas of a health care facility need special attention and certainly any new food service areas will need to have a strong pest management plan in place.

Education is the key to long-term prevention of pests following renovation. Health care staff — particularly those who work with food, laundry or patients — should be trained on prevention and inspection techniques. After all, they are on the front lines of pest threats, and they should be encouraged to report and log any pest sightings.

As health care providers, it’s essential to be proactive about pests as renovations occur. By maintaining effective pest management practices before, during and after renovation, a health care facility can provide high-quality care to patients and continue to be a place where health and wellness can thrive.

Tim Husen, Ph.D., BCE is a technical services manager at national pest control company Orkin LLC. A board-certified entomologist specializing in urban entomology, he has more than a decade of experience in the industry. For more information, email thusen@rollins.com or visit www.orkincommercial.com.