Web Exclusive: Why I support a preventive approach to bed bugs

By |  January 22, 2018
Bed Bug Think Tank

Joseph Latino leads a roundtable discussion at the first meeting of the Bed Bug Think Tank, convened during the National Pest Management Association’s PestWorld event in Baltimore, Md., in October. There, the Working Party was created and several issues regarding bed bug prevention strategies were discussed.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about the Bed Bug Prevention Think Tank and its Working Party, please see p. 75 of the January 2018 issue of Pest Management Professional magazine.

Bed bug prevention is a concept that has been bandied about for years, but has not yet been effectively applied throughout our industry. While there are no magic bullets in the pest management professional’s (PMP’s) toolbox for bed bugs, there are many environmentally low-impact, long-residual products and allied monitors and protective coverings that, in aggregate, can comprise an effective, preventive program.

It goes without saying that education and inspection are key elements to this program. However, as no one product class has proven sufficient to stand alone in supporting an efficacious bed bug preventive program, the program contemplated is designed so that the “whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” The goal is to provide a non-proprietary program to PMPs, allowing them to deliver a preventive program that is sustainable and cost-effective for manufacturer, service provider and end-users alike.

One would likely agree that unless the bed bug scourge that challenges this nation is addressed preventively, reactive control strategies are grossly insufficient to stem this insidious pest. History does repeat itself. Cockroach baits changed the way we treat for and prevent German cockroaches. Bait stations revolutionized the termite market. And now, it’s time to focus on what a new approach can do for bed bugs.

While there were approximately 900,000 active remediations performed in the U.S. in 2016, reports indicate that one in every five Americans is directly or indirectly affected by bed bugs. This represents close to 70 million individuals that may consider bed bug prevention. It is truly this industry’s untapped vertical!

Ultimately, from the work currently underway from the Think Tank’s Working Party group, we expect that a fully integrated program will be derived that includes:

  • Educational training and awareness literature.
  • Product class recommendations.
  • A bed bug warranty structure.
  • Contractual draft agreements for PMPs and their end-user customers.
  • Various sales models tailored to specific vertical markets (including hospitality, assisted living, lower income and multi-occupant dwellings, and colleges/universities).
  • Financial modeling to document the return on investment (ROI) for each preventive program.

We strive toward developing a program that will be considered for adoption as a best management practice (BMP) by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), as well as national, regional and local housing authorities, regulatory agencies and bed bug educators.

The initial Bed Bug Preventive Think Tank meeting, which took place among a variety of interested parties in October, was an enlightening and engaging conversation. A few resounding issues were agreed upon:

  • Bed bug prevention is a desirable endeavor from both societal and industrial positions. The pervading question is, what is the right model — both programmatic and financial — that will make bed bug prevention a viable offering?
  • To date, most PMPs’ prevention program sales attempts have not fared well. However, many of these service offerings have been inspection-based and did not include environmentally low-impact, long-residual insecticides, devices or a warranty.
  • Prevention program success is closely tied to the ROI as seen through the lens of both the client and the service provider.
  • One prevention program does not fit all; programs need to be tailored to individual vertical needs based on a “pain point” assessment specific to the vertical. The degree of financial and reputational negative impact from bed bugs must be evaluated to determine the degree (including cost) of prevention a facility is prepared to consider implementing.

Looking beyond cost

The hospitality, assisted living and multi-occupant dwellings verticals have diverse needs and “triggers” in the adoption process of bed bug prevention. Cost is routinely a decision-weighing factor. However, rather than concentrating solely on the initial installation expense, assessment of the operational costs of remediation per incident requiring treatment versus prevention is essential to demonstrate ROI from both the service provider and end user’s vantage points.

Hospitality accounts must consider impact on reputation, loss or rooms out-of-service, guest compensation, and the direct costs of remediation in their analysis. For hotels, the highly transient nature of their guests plus the highly competitive nature of this industry makes facility-wide prevention more likely.

Speaking from experience, Allergy Technologies has partnered with several hotel brands and PMPs nationally using our product as a component in preventive strategies. Since implementing our program, one major hotel brand has repeatedly saved closed to $500,000 per year since 2014, after previously enduring a multi-year recurrence of bed bug-related lost revenue. We have also worked with New York City-based M&M Environmental Pest Control to institute and maintain a preventive bed bug program at a 2,000+ room assisted-living facility.

In contrast, multi-occupant dwellings, a major repository for bed bugs throughout the nation, often have significant cost constraints that make facility-wide installation at the outset infeasible. With that in mind, selective prevention circumscribing treated infested units is being analyzed as a cost-effective and efficacious model to prevent bed bug infestations from establishing and spreading throughout a complex.

The overriding objective of the Bed Bug Prevention Think Tank is to assess the needs and financial wherewithal of each targeted vertical, so that a tailored program can be implemented that clearly makes prevention a highly cost-effective alternative to reactive remediation. While prevention offers legal and reputational advantages over reactive approaches to bed bug remediation, a comparison of remediative to preventive cost often dictates which approach is adopted by the end-user. Our goal is to demonstrate to PMPs that prevention is a more financially lucrative approach than remediation.

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