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Bedbugs found in Medford Gospel Mission

Steven Michael Hoffman has been sleeping at the Medford Gospel Mission for nearly a week, but now he prefers his car. It’s colder and less comfy, but at least there are no bedbugs.

Hoffman, who retired in 2007 from Royal Caribbean Cruises, has since had two back surgeries and, this month, moved to Southern Oregon from North Carolina. He’s been eating and sleeping at the mission while looking for a place to live in Ashland.

Two days into his stay, Hoffman began to notice little red, itchy bumps on his ankles and feet.

“Then I started getting them on my hands and between my finger,” he said. “Then up my arms to my shoulders.”

Now they also cover his legs to his knees. He visited a mobile health clinic for gout and while there the doctor counted 48 bedbug bites and gave him a recommendation for an anti-itch ointment.

Staff at the mission told Hoffman, “Everybody’s got them.”

“They look and feel like a mosquito bite,” Hoffman said. “I got (bedbugs) in my beard and in my hair. And the whole time, I’m scratchin’ myself. I scratch at them a whole lot because they really itch.”

Hoffman still plans to eat at the mission during the day but decided to sleep in his car, parked outside the mission, until he can find a place of his own.

Medford Gospel Mission Director Bill Gourley said bedbugs have plagued the facility for the last year “in spurts.”

“We've had a professional pest service come in and do monthly treatments for them,” Gourley said. “We’re working on them, but that doesn't prevent people from bringing them in.”

Staff at the mission wash and dry the sheets daily and run all the pillows through commercial dryers every evening. And all the mattresses are bedbug-proof, Gourley said.

“We’re not the only ones who are having an issue with them,” he said.

Jonathan Modie, a spokesman for Oregon Public Health Division, said calls to the Food, Pool & Lodging Health and Safety Section regarding bedbugs have become much more frequent in recent years.

“We never had any calls about bedbugs until about 2009, and they've gone steadily up since then,” he said.

Chad Petersen, manager of Jackson County Environmental Public Health, said he’s also noticed bedbugs have become more of an issue in the last few years.

“It’s probably because of the increase and ease of international travel,” he said. “Bedbugs are spread by people bringing them in on their clothing and luggage.”

Unlike mosquitoes, bedbugs don’t carry disease and, therefore, are not a violation of the Travelers’ Accommodation Rules, Petersen said.

“But when we get a complaint, we talk to the facility about how to eradicate the problem and give them resources,” he said, adding that he was aware of the bedbugs at the Medford Gospel Mission and felt sorry for the staff there.

“It’s almost an impossible feat for them, because the transient population keeps coming back in and contaminating the sleeping quarters,” he said.

Bedbugs feed on blood, are more active at night and can be found in cracks and crevices — for example, mattress seams, sheets, baseboards and picture frames. Female bedbugs lay between 200 and 500 eggs in a lifetime (about 300 days.)

According to Orkin, a national pest control service, travelers should be aware of tiny rust-colored spots on hotel bedding, store suitcases on a luggage rack away from the bed or wall and, upon return, dry all clothing on the highest setting to kill off any stowaways.

Reach reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Steven Hoffman was driven out of the Medford Gospel Mission by bedbugs and forced to sleep in his car. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell