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Facing bedbugs, officials opt to close Camp Spaulding for the summer

Last modified: 7/11/2014 12:21:16 AM
This summer marked the first time Camp Spaulding, a co-ed overnight camp in Penacook that’s operated by Child and Family Services of New Hampshire, trained its counselors to spot signs of bedbugs.

Call it foreshadowing, maybe, but CFS Senior Vice President/Chief Operating Officer Maria Gagnon is calling it fortunate: The first night of the camp’s first summer session, June 30, campers in one of the boys’ bunks started complaining about itchy skin. Sure enough, she said, the counselors soon realized bedbugs were to blame.

Camp staff immediately moved campers out of the infested bunk and took steps to sanitize their belongings, Gagnon said. But the next day, the bugs showed up in another boys’ bunk.

The camp moved kids out of the second infested cabin and brought in a pest control service for further evaluation. After a second visit from the pest control service Tuesday, Gagnon said they learned that a majority of their 10 cabins have “active bugs or evidence of eggs or past bugs.”

They brought the Concord Health Department in Wednesday, Gagnon said. And by noon, camp officials decided they had no choice: Camp Spaulding is calling off its remaining summer sessions to ensure the pests are fully eradicated.

They’re not happy about it, Gagnon said, but they don’t want to take any chances.

The camp’s first two-week session was set to wrap up today anyway, but officials said campers will not be able to attend any of the three remaining sessions scheduled through August. Refunds will be issued to families affected by the future cancellations within a month, Child and Family Services said in a press release.

Families of the roughly 56 kids in the first camp session were notified about the outbreak last week and were given the option to withdraw their kids from the program for a full refund. No one took the camp up on the offer, Gagnon said. The families who are picking up their kids today were given the option to use camp showers, dumpsters and other facilities to try to avoid bringing the bedbugs home.

“We understand that there’s a rippling effect,” Gagnon said. “Parents are going to be struggling to figure out day care, and a lot of kids look forward to coming to camp.”

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services does not track bedbug outbreaks within the state, Bureau of Infectious Disease Control chief Christine Adamski said. While their tiny bites can be itchy or painful, Adamski said the bugs don’t pose a medical risk and don’t carry diseases like mosquitoes do.

Still, Adamski said they can indeed be a nuisance – if not a health hazard – for summer campers, hotel guests and the average resident. Adamski said the stereotype that bedbugs are a reflection of unkempt living conditions is misguided.

“There’s this misconception that they’re only in dirty places or undeveloped countries, but I think it’s been documented that they can appear in very nice hotels,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily reflect on cleanliness or hygiene of a particular area.”

As a routine, camp officials said Camp Spaulding already brings in pest control services at the beginning and end of each summer. While the company the camp has routinely used for pest control told officials the facilities were “pest-free” before this year’s first round of campers arrived, Gagnon said the new company it brought in – JP Chemical Pest Management Services – estimates that the bugs may have been present for several years. JP Chemical Pest Management Services declined to comment further without specific permission from the camp, and Gagnon declined to specify the company that the camp previously used for pest control.

The pest control alone could cost $10,000, Gagnon said, but the costs to prevent future infestations could be even higher. Camp Spaulding’s cabins and bunk beds are all made of wood, which is especially hospitable to bedbugs, so Gagnon said the camp is looking into whether it’s necessary to switch to metal beds or to renovate the cabin walls and floors.

Short of structural fixes, the best protection against the bugs may be a watchful eye. Adamski advised campers or others to keep an eye out for the tiny bugs and the small red bites they leave behind. Other signs of a bedbug infestation might include “a sweet musty odor” or “rusty-colored blood spots” on a mattress or other material, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Camp Spaulding is specifically aimed at serving kids from low- and moderate-income families, Gagnon said – a factor that weighed heavily on the decision to close. For many of the kids, Gagnon said, the trip to camp is a highlight of their summer and a chance to “get to do the things that their peers are doing” that they might not otherwise be able to afford.

At home, though, Gagnon said many of the campers live in apartments or other residences where bedbugs wouldn’t have to travel far to spread to family members or neighbors – and the camp staff wanted to prevent future campers from bringing the pests back to their communities.

“We also understand that these families are the least able to resolve a bedbug issue in their homes,” Gagnon added. “They can’t just pick up and take all of their belongings and throw them out, and replace their pillows and replace their mattresses.”

Another New Hampshire summer camp reached out to the camp after hearing about the cancellation, but Gagnon said she wasn’t sure as of yesterday afternoon what that assistance might entail. Others have suggested moving the camp sessions to another facility, if possible, or converting to a day camp – but the camp likely won’t be able to afford either of those options because of the costs associated with its pest control, Gagnon said.

Looking ahead, she’s hopeful that this year’s infestation won’t deter loyal campers or new attendees from coming to Camp Spaulding in the future.

“We are taking an extreme measure to ensure the safety of children by closing the camp,” Gagnon said. “If we do this well, and we have every intention to do it well, we will create an environment that is possibly safer than any other camp in the state.”

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)


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